Ali, our hostess for the week, has already reviewed this collection of stories, and, has done so much more favourably than I am about to do. If you are a die hard fan, and don’t want to hear a bad word about our Daphne, then read no further.
This is how I think of Du Maurier as an author: When she is good, she is very, very good, and when she is bad, she is horrid. But much of her output is inbetween. Middling? No, that’s an unkind word to use for an author whose work is so varied and enjoyable, even if it doesn’t reach the heights of her own greatness (cf Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel).
A short story collection affords the opportunity to show all facets of an author’s writing, and six stories in The Birds and Other Stories do just that. Unfortunately.
I’m not going to discuss story content. I’ll refer you to Ali’s review for that. I want to talk about the organisation of a short story collection as it applies here. (See footnote.)
Rule 1) Start and end with pieces of brilliance. Tick. The collection is bookended by The Birds, arguably her most famous story, and a thematically-linked piece The Old Man, the conceit of which I enjoyed even more. There’s a story that soars to high places.
Rule 2) Support weaker stories in the collection with tent poles. In a collection of six I’d expect a supporting structure somewhere in the middle. There it is at number 3. The Apple Tree is deliciously malign. And ironically, the old, unproductive tree is needed to support a collection in danger of collapsing after the lengthy and utterly attrocious Mount Veritá. (74 pages of faux spirituality that took me 3 days to trudge through.)
Rule 3) Vary story length. Tick. Unfortunately the lengthy one is … well, see above.
Rule 4) Insert less strong stories between the tent poles. Tick. So we find The Little Photographer and Kiss Me Again, Stranger as stories 4 and 5. Both are enjoyable, but with twists that are a little predictable.
To summarise: 3 brilliant stories, 2 enjoyable stories, and the one never to be mentioned again, which has disproportionately coloured my view of the collection as a whole. I can’t rate it above 3-stars.
Footnote: My thanks to Litreader for these ideas on the organisation of a short story collection.
The first and final stories are probably the strongest, but I obviously enjoyed the others a little more than you did. Thank you for your thoughts, and for joining in Daphne du Maurier reading week.
I’m afraid I share your doubts about DDM, and think you’re spot on about her patchiness. At her best she’s pretty good, but there are times when she’s abject. The House on the Strand is highly entertaining tosh. I read it when I lived in the village with a Cornish name that the title of the novel translates into English: Tywardreath (or so I read somewhere – if not I’m happy to be corrected).
The House on The Strand was my first DDM, and I remember really enjoying it! Will put on re-read pile.
Tosh?!? Really? I think that book’s so interesting about the addictiveness of voyeurism. Simon, Lizzy, can you say a bit more about what you see as the weaknesses in her writing? (Genuinely curious!)
It’s not the writing per se. My issues are with the narratives. The slight predictability of stories 4 and 5 and the utter nonsense of the second one. Spoiler ahead: would not one, but two men make lifelong lovesick fools of themselves for the same woman, no matter how beautiful she is? I think not.
I was wondering about your reservations about her in general: implausibility, then?
Definitely with Mount Veritá. But I had the same issue last year. Read The Flight of The Falcon which I thought fantastic (though probably highly implausible). Then The Parasites which tanked spectacularly with me. Narrative all too plausible but the characters just drove me insane! i guess her material just doesn’t chime with me at times.
I’ve started Falcon and am really enjoying it. I guess for me I’m less interested in how plausible her stories are and more in her ideas (in that sense, she kind of reminds me of a science fiction writer).
It’s nearly 30 years since I read House on the Strand, so perhaps I should have been more circumspect in being critical. But I do recall its plot being pretty ludicrous, even making allowances for that kind of fantasy/scifi/historical romance genre. I seem to recall as well that the characterisation was flimsy – something I’ve found in her longer fiction elsewhere. As entertainments her fiction is ok. Discriminations will always differ from person to person – it’s good to discuss why that is!
LOL!What a clever idea about the structure of a collection! I’ve only ever read one of her short stories (not from this collection) which I enjoyed; but I’m not likely to pick this one up anyway because of my issues with our feathered friends…
Interesting review, and yes some of her stories are mediocre, in between the brilliant ones! Have you read Don’t Look Now?
That idea that an author can have some brilliant and some average books is true for most authors I think. I certainly have some authors that I loved at one point who I just don’t read anymore because their books don’t work for me at all.
I have enjoyed some DDM books but have not read her short stories.
I’ ve given up on a few authors also, Marg. It helps the book budget. Thing is, I have a complete collection of DDM, so I will keep reading ….