The Birds & Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier for #DDMreadingweek

I very much enjoyed Don’t Look Now and Other Stories when I read it a few years back and was keen to read more of Daphne Du Maurier’s stories.  While I didn’t think this collection was a cohesive, it is still full of suspenseful, perfectly structured stories that veer between thriller, horror and sci-fi.

The stories in this collection are packed full of incident. This is not always the case with short stories, which tend to focus more on mood and character, not that Du Maurier scrimps in that respect either. Here she has written six stories, which could all be built upon to become novels in their own right; such is the detail of plot and setting. The collection features attacking birds, a magic mountain, doomed holiday romance, and a vengeful apple tree. Things happen to Du Maurier characters, things that have the power to change their lives and most often not always for the best.

The collection opens with ‘The Birds’, the basis for Hitchcock’s classic film of the same name, but the story is a very different proposition. It focuses on Nat Hocken, a farmer who lives on the coast with his wife and young children. When his children are attacked in the night by a flock of birds, he has a sense that something is going very wrong. Taking the situation more seriously than his neighbours do, he barricades his family into their home and they listen to the radio in growing horror, as civilisation itself appears to be on the brink of destruction. The Birds is a wonderfully claustrophobic story, focusing almost on one room and emphasising the inherent and underestimated power of the natural world.

‘Monte Verità’ concerns two friends, brought together by their love of mountaineering. The men lose touch when one of them, Victor, marries and beautiful and elusive woman named Anna. Years later, their paths cross again when Anna goes missing on Monte Verità, supposedly the home of a monastic sect, which offers women the promise of eternal youth. Anna’s husband subsequently has a breakdown and his friend promises to climb the mountain and search for Anna, discovering much more than he could ever have imagined. ‘Monte Verità’ is the most supernatural story of the collection – almost Lovecraftian in its style – but despite presenting a compelling treatise on our attempts to find true happiness on earth, it is overly long and loses steam.

‘The Apple Tree’ is a wonderfully creepy little tale, with sparks of real humour and a brilliantly unreliable narrator. Following the sudden death of his grumbling, unhappy wife, a widower relishes the freedom her death brings, yet he finds himself unsettled by an apple tree in the garden. He tries to cut it down and burn the wood, but the smell of it makes him ill. The apples it produces taste wonderful to everyone else, but are disgusting to him. He becomes obsessed with the tree, believing it to be imbued with an evil spirit, which may, or may not be linked to his dead wife.

‘The Little Photographer’ and ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’, are more straightforward stories of psychological intrigue. In the former, a wealthy Marquise on holiday in the South of France without her husband, embarks on an affair with a local photographer. When he professes his love and tells her he will follow her to Paris at the end of her sojourn, her horror leads her to a desperate act. However, the Marquise is about to find out that her actions have created a very different and much more difficult situation.

‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’ focuses on a shy man who meets an usher at the cinema and pursues her in an uncharacteristically determined fashion. His courtship is cut short however when he realises this girl is not quite what she seems, and that he has, in fact, had a very close escape.

Closing story ‘The Old Man’ has the feel of a fable and is one of those stories that it is best to read with no prior knowledge. Safe to say that Du Maurier has saved the best for last and uses her deft skill to destabilise the reader at the very last moment in a story of ambiguity and ingenuity.

Where Du Maurier’s stories really succeed is by putting relatively comfortable, settled characters into an unknown and unusual situation that excites their curiosity and raising the stakes slowly until their entire comfortable existence hangs in the balance.

I have a theory that each man’s life is like a pack of cards, and those we meet and sometimes love are shuffled with us. We find ourselves in the same suit, held by the hand of Fate. The game is played, we are discarded, and pass on.

Death looms large over these tales, either as the catalyst to start the story, or as the possible and often probable outcome at the end and if her protagonists come to a bad end, Du Maurier makes it clear that it is usually because their own curiosity got the better of them.

This refusal of comfort is what makes the stories so successful. Du Maurier excels in quickly creating a believable world, plunging her protagonists into it and asking the reader to bear witness to whatever will befall them. Her mastery of setting, atmosphere and misdirection mean that even when we have an idea of where these stories might be going, we can be sure that she will wrong foot us every time and leave us with an open-ended, but delicious ambiguity.

I read The Birds & Other Stories for Heaven Ali’s Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week 2023.

Reading Challenge The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

26 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Glad you enjoyed this collection, Cathy – My favourites are also The Birds, The Apple Tree and The Old Man! 😃 I think each story has that uncanny feeling of dislocation and sort of mocks the human belief that we are in control.


  2. I could have sworn I left a comment here, but it’s been that kind of day!
    I really enjoyed this collection – eerier and more unsettling than I had expected. I love the little hint of paranormal that creeps into some of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I must say I loved these stories. I particularly loved the title story and The Apple Tree, though Monte Verita is very memorable, too. They are all so atmospheric, du Maurier excels in creepy, unsettling tales.


    • It’s funny Ali, Monte Verita wasn’t my favourite when reading ( I thought it was a bit too long) but it is the one that has stayed with me the most! Thanks again for hosting, I was just saying to someone else that I’ve become such a fan of Du Maurier directly because of your yearly celebration.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just got to your review of this since I didn’t want to read it till I’d done my own. I enjoyed this collection too, like you the second time I read a short story collection by her. The Apple Tree and the Old Man were my favourites here but I think she does the surprise element or twist perfectly in each case


  5. I enjoyed The Birds and The Apple Tree recently. The Birds is quite different from the film. Both books leaves you in a strange mood. There is always an undertone of danger in her short stories. I do enjoy them. I have not read any of the other you mention. Still something to look forward too.

    Liked by 1 person

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