Thursday, March 13, 2014

If It's Good Enough for Hitchcock

I was never able to get into Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, probably because I saw the movie with Joan Fontaine and therefore a) knew the ending, and b) kind of hated the narrator because Joan Fontaine is kind of whiny.  But I didn't know that du Maurier wrote the short story "The Birds" until this anthology popped up on Netgalley. (I got a free review copy of this book.)

I remembered the short story from a high school English anthology, and I remembered really loving it.  I've thought of it occasionally over the years and wondered who wrote it, and I was so excited to have the opportunity to read it again.

And man, it didn't disappoint.  Reading this again, I recognize it as a part of a genre that I didn't think about at the time; "dystopia" wasn't a YA section word at the library when I was a kid.  But this is process dystopia at its finest--change is coming and you can only hunker down.  

The story is only related to the Hitchcock movie in the broadest strokes--the birds are attacking.  This is a tale of dread and preparation--you know the kind.  There's also a very interesting forward here about du Maurier's relationship with Hollywood, particularly Hitchcock, who said that he read source material only once and then forgot it to make his own story.

Honestly, this is a great example of the book being better.  It's just a short story, but the sense of dread, the eeriness of the setting, and the narrator's practicality and localness make such a difference in the experience here.

The other stories both range wide and have a lot in common.  Mostly, the commonality is tone--the slow build of suspense, the sense of events unfolding toward some inevitable ending--sometimes known, sometimes not--that is mysterious and unnerving.  Some of them have a twinge of the supernatural; in "Monte Verita," the narrator tells of a remote mountain fortress and the people who are drawn there, mysteriously, never to return.  Some might be supernatural or psychological; in "The Apple Tree," the main character finds the tree in his yard reminds him of his deceased wife, and we learn about their marriage and their characters through that recognition.  Some of the characters you have to hate, like the Marquise in "The Little Photographer," who married an older man for money and lives only for admiration.  Others you wish the best for, like the narrator of "Kiss Me Again, Stranger," who is regular chap who falls for a girl and has one fascinating night with her.

Each of these stories is creepy, in its way, or maybe just full of a building tension that carries you through the methodical unfolding of the narration.  You have an idea where each one is going, but by the time it gets there, it's both stirring and inevitable.

So yes, I'm still having a great book year.  Brenda, I recommend this one for you.

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