Review: Five Short Stories by Daphne Du Maurier: “Don’t Look Now; The Breakthrough; Not After Midnight; A Border-Line Case; The Way of the Cross”

by Guest Reviewer “Cymrugirl”

While this collection of stories by Du Maurier is always interesting (her writing is so good it inevitably keeps you turning the pages to find out more), the conclusions of the stories often fail. Meaning is far too ambiguous to ever satisfy that eternal reader question “why did I read this?” Ambiguity can sometimes work well in literature, but at other times, it’s essential that an author provide a moment of clarity – if not spelled out, then in a single clue that can, potentially, be unraveled. This potential is not available with most of these. Granted, there are a couple of exceptions.

The title piece, “Don’t Look Now”, is a simple fatalistic tale with eerie Venetian landscapes and characters thrown in. The pieces all fit. The final “moment” when the pieces fit together is…ridiculous…and then it ends. There is no real profundity. But it’s a fun ride.

The Greek mythological “Not After Midnight” promises so much…and then just doesn’t deliver. What’s more, it leaves multiple loose ends dangling behind its already sinking ship. I enjoyed reading it but, like the first story, at its conclusion was really disappointed. There were so MANY different, fascinating directions this story could have gone and then it just sort of sits there. The prologue is, in some ways, forgotten – or she just gambles too hard on the reader being sure about her intentions.

I’m probably alone in thinking that “The Breakthrough” is the best executed of all the stories in the book. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A twilight zone, paranormal piece that, while leaving me uncomfortable, didn’t waste my time. While I can’t say that I “enjoyed” the ending, it felt cohesive.

I never want to read “A Border-Line Case” again. I didn’t like the people and the ending does not need to exist. (I’m fully aware that some people will just want to read it more after my saying that, but I’ll just say the trick’s on them) I actually felt scammed at the end of this story. SCAMMED. And nauseated.

“The Way of the Cross” is the weakest of the lot. It isn’t ever anything. I think it’s trying very hard to be profound but comes up gasping for air after swimming in very shallow waters. Sadly, I had the highest expectations for this one. It started with a very interesting structure – it was going places – and then suddenly I felt like we were back in the airport souvenir shop buying postcards and a cheap sandwich and we hadn’t really seen anything except the inside of our hotel room and why oh why did we waste money on this trip?

I love Du Maurier, but I probably won’t pick this up again. My final thought was that this is a collection of rejects from an author who typically does astonishingly better work. This felt like some sort of peace offering to an agent who just really wanted to publish something else.

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