The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

The Birds and Other Stories I have never enjoyed reading short stories as much as full length novels and my various attempts over the years at increasing the number of short stories I read have generally failed. However, one of the few authors whose short stories I do enjoy is Daphne du Maurier (in fact, I’ve loved almost everything I’ve ever read by du Maurier, whatever the format). I have actually read The Birds before (soon after reading Rebecca for the first time as a teenager) but I never went on to read the other stories in this collection so when I saw that this book was available through NetGalley, it seemed a good opportunity to rectify this.

I read another du Maurier collection a few years ago – The Rendezvous & Other Stories – which contained some of the earliest examples of her work, but I found the stories in The Birds and Other Stories much stronger – the work of an accomplished author rather than a beginner. There are six stories in the book, including The Birds, and all of them are excellent, although I felt that two were slightly weaker than the other four.

The Birds, made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same name, is the first story in the book and one of my favourites. For those of you not familiar with the plot, this is the story of Nat Hocken, a farm worker who lives with his wife and two young children. When Nat notices an unusually large number of birds in the skies above him, he senses that the weather must be about to change. The next day a national emergency is declared: Britain is under attack from huge flocks of birds. Nat begins to board up the windows and doors, but will he and his family survive the night?

This is such an atmospheric story; you can feel the claustrophobia inside Nat’s house, you can hear the sounds of pecking and tapping at the windows, and you can see the birds gathering in the sky:

He walked down the path, halfway to the beach and then he stopped. He could see the tide had turned. The rock that had shown in midmorning was now covered, but it was not the sea that held his eyes. The gulls had risen. They were circling, hundreds of them, thousands of them, lifting their wings against the wind. It was the gulls that made the darkening of the sky. And they were silent.

I loved this story and it was certainly worth re-reading, but the next two that followed were also very enjoyable. Monte Verita is a haunting tale of a lonely monastery high in the mountains, an isolated community of priestesses and a village of superstitious peasants. The Apple Tree is a great little story about a man who becomes obsessed by the old apple tree in his garden, believing that it is taking on the characteristics of his dead wife, Midge. Whether this is really happening or whether it’s all in his imagination you will have to read the story to decide.

Stories four and five were the ones I didn’t like as much as the others. The Little Photographer tells the story of a beautiful married woman who has a summer affair with a photographer and gets a lot more than she bargained for when she tries to end the relationship. In Kiss Me Again, Stranger, the narrator remembers a girl he once met and fell in love with, only to have his heart broken when he makes a macabre discovery. There was nothing wrong with either of these stories, but they didn’t have the eerie, otherworldly feel of the previous three.

Finally, The Old Man is the shortest story in the book, but also the cleverest. I’m not going to give any more details except to say that when I reached the end of this particular story, I was so surprised and delighted that I had to go straight back to the beginning and read it again!

So, a very impressive selection of stories! They contain many of the same elements that du Maurier uses in her full-length novels, such as the male narrative voice, the unnamed characters, the ambiguous endings, the wonderful use of atmosphere and the vivid sense of place. They are the ideal length too – each one is long enough to allow the reader to be fully drawn into the story, but short enough to read in one sitting. I would highly recommend this collection even to those readers who, like me, don’t often choose to read short stories.

Thanks to Little, Brown and Company for providing a review copy via NetGalley

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24 thoughts on “The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

  1. hastanton says:

    I love Du Maurier’s short stories …..a few years since I read any . I remember thinking she tried out ‘set pieces ‘ for various of her novels in them. She is a great writer ……I’ve even been on a trip to Fowey where she lived …..and set many of her novels !

  2. aartichapati says:

    I absolutely MUST read some du Maurier this year! I’ve never read anything by her, but she’s such a favorite of so many of my favorite bloggers that I think I must give her a try. 2014 is the year!

  3. Margaret @ BooksPlease says:

    I prefer novels to short stories too – but Du Maurier’s short stories are in another league. I haven’t read this selection, although I have read The Birds and remember being so surprised that it was so different from Hitchcock’s film. I also heard a radio dramatisation, which worked very well – very creepy.

    • Helen says:

      The Birds is a great story (and yes, quite different from the film) but I loved some of the others in this book just as much, especially The Old Man and Monte Verita!

  4. Nish says:

    I’ve seen The Birds, but had no idea it was based on DuMaurier’s story. That movie scarred me for life and since then I’ve always had a fear and dislike of birds. I will still hunt down and read these short stories anyway.

    • Helen says:

      I don’t really have a problem with birds, but I still found the story very creepy! It’s definitely worth reading even if you’ve already seen the Hitchcock film as there are so many differences.

  5. Catherine says:

    As you know, I am a fan of her work. Didn’t read those ones but they are on my list of “read everything she ever wrote” lol.

  6. Alex says:

    I’m not a short story reader but like you, I love du Maurier an so might just have been tempted by these. However, I was so terrified by the Hitchcock film of ‘The Birds’ that I can’t bring myself to even so much as possess a copy of the book. Pitiful or what?

  7. Rabindra Kumar Ghosh says:

    I read the short story The Birds after having seen the movie and found the story more engaging. The loneliness and the horror were more deeply felt. In the case of Rebecca, I had read the novel first and again I found that the book was more impressive than the movie. Nevertheless I have seen both the movies again and again.

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