The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier (re-read) – #DDMReadingWeek

This week HeavenAli is hosting another of her Daphne du Maurier Reading Weeks, assisted by Liz who is collecting the links this year. As you may know, du Maurier is one of my favourite authors; I have now read all of her novels and short story collections at least once and some of her non-fiction (I attempted to rank them all in this post, just for fun). For this year’s Reading Week I’ve decided to re-read her 1957 novel The Scapegoat, which is one I particularly loved when I first read it back in 2011 (here’s my original review). I’ve wanted to read it again ever since, not just because I enjoyed it so much, but also because I formed a theory about what was actually happening in the book and I was curious to see whether I would feel the same way on a second read. I’ll discuss this later in this post, but don’t worry – I’ll include a spoiler warning for those of you who haven’t read the book yet.

The novel opens in Le Mans where our narrator, John, an English academic, is on holiday. When he meets a man who looks and sounds just like him at the station, he feels an instant connection with him and after spending the evening drinking and talking, he accompanies the other man back to his hotel room. He learns that his new friend is a French count, Jean de Gué, and that they have something else in common – they are both depressed and dissatisfied with life, John because he is lonely and has no family, Jean because he has a large family, all of whom are causing him problems. As the night wears on, John falls into a drunken stupor and when he wakes up the next day his companion has disappeared, taking all of John’s clothes and possessions with him and leaving his own in their place.

When Jean’s chauffeur arrives, ready to drive him home to his château in the French countryside, John begins to protest, explaining that there has been a mistake – but then, on an impulse, he decides to take this opportunity to leave his old life behind for a while and continue to impersonate Jean de Gué. On reaching Jean’s château, John finds that nobody suspects he is an impostor and he is able to take Jean’s place within the family. He also begins to understand why Jean had said his family life was so difficult – there are all sorts of tensions and conflicts between various members of the family and to make things worse, the de Gué glassworks is facing financial ruin. It’s up to John to put things right, if he can.

I enjoyed this read of The Scapegoat as much as my first. If you take everything at face value, of course, it requires a huge suspension of disbelief. Not only do John and Jean look completely identical, so much so that not even Jean’s mother, wife or daughter guess the truth, but they also sound exactly the same (and John’s French is so fluent that nobody suspects a thing). Is this likely? Of course not, but it provides du Maurier with her starting point for this fascinating novel and it’s perfectly possible to just accept the plot for what it is and enjoy the story. After all, it’s no more ridiculous than the book that apparently inspired this one – Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda. And as always with a du Maurier novel, you can expect beautiful descriptions, a strong sense of place and interesting, if not necessarily very likeable, characters.

*My Scapegoat theory (includes spoilers)*

When I first read this book in 2011, I found myself beginning to wonder – what if John and Jean weren’t doubles after all? What if there was only one man, with multiple personalities (now known as dissociative identity disorder)? It makes so much more sense to me that Jean, feeling that he has made a mess of his life, has created a new identity to deal with the problems he has caused for himself. At the end of the book, when everything has been resolved, he has no further need of John and although it’s not clear exactly how much Jean has learned and how he will manage his relationships and business affairs in the future, he feels that he can now cope on his own. He tells John that he has emptied John’s bank account, sold his flat and furniture in London and resigned John’s position as university lecturer – in other words, destroyed John altogether, because John never really existed and is no longer necessary.

After finishing the book on that first occasion, I remember looking at other reviews and being surprised that almost nobody else had mentioned that any of this had occurred to them too. I accepted that I must have misunderstood the whole book; however, the Daphne du Maurier website quotes a letter written by Daphne herself regarding The Scapegoat which seems to support my interpretation. Her reference to ‘that man’s nature’ doesn’t really make sense to me if there were actually two separate men in the book.

“Every one of us has his, or her, dark side. Which is to overcome the other? This is the purpose of the book. And it ends, as you know, with the problem unsolved, except that the suggestion there, when I finished it, was that the two sides of that man’s nature had to fuse together to give birth to a third, well balanced.”

On reading the book for a second time, I have been paying closer attention and looking for subtle clues and hints. There are just three main obstacles in the way of my theory. First, there’s Jean’s dog, César, who is hostile towards John and the only member of the household who seems to sense that something is wrong. However, when Jean and John meet up again at the end of the book, Jean explains that John hasn’t been whistling to César in the correct way and this is why he hasn’t been obeying his commands. Also, during a scene in a hospital, we are told that Jean is blood group O and John is blood group A – but as it’s John himself who tells us this I don’t think it can be taken as conclusive evidence of anything. The only thing I can’t manage to explain away is that when Jean calls the château to inform John that he’s coming home, it’s a servant who answers the phone and tells John that someone wants to speak to him. If it wasn’t for this one moment, I would have been nearly convinced that I was right!

I did find plenty of things to support my theory, including the fact that, when speaking to Jean’s family for the first time, John finds that the ‘tu‘ form of French comes naturally to him, although he’s never used it before; the way John muses that Jean’s ‘inner substance was part of my nature, part of my secret self’; and in particular, the whole conversation he has with Jean’s mistress, Béla, in Chapter 12.

‘You said something a while ago about taking stock of oneself,’ I said. ‘Perhaps that’s just what I’ve been doing, over a period of time, and it came to a head that evening in Le Mans. The self I knew had failed. The only way to escape responsibility for failure was to become someone else. Let another personality take charge.’

‘The other Jean de Gué,’ she said, ‘the one who’s been hidden for so long beneath the surface gaiety and charm, I’ve often wondered if he existed. If he’s going to emerge, he’d better do so now. Time’s getting on.’

What do you think?

*End of spoilers*

Overall, after finishing my second read of the book, I think probably the way everyone else has interpreted it is the correct way, but du Maurier does like to be ambiguous and I enjoyed looking below the surface and dissecting the different layers! It really is a fascinating novel and still one of my favourites by du Maurier. Now I just need to find time to revisit some of her others!

The Rebecca Notebook: and Other Memories by Daphne du Maurier – #DDMReadingWeek

When a novel can affect the human heart in such a way it seems to mean one thing only: not that the tale is exceptional in itself, but that the writer has so projected his personality on to the printed page that the reader either identifies with that personality or becomes fascinated by it, and in a near sense hypnotised.

Here Daphne du Maurier is talking about her grandfather, George du Maurier, author of the popular 1894 novel Trilby, but I think this quote could just as easily apply to Daphne herself. The more I read about her and about her background and family, the more I can see how her own personality and experiences found their way into the writing of her famous novels and short stories. I’ve now read all of those novels and stories (and looked back at my favourites in this post from last year) and am now working through her non-fiction. The Rebecca Notebook: and Other Memories, first published in 1981, was my choice for this year’s Daphne du Maurier Reading Week hosted by Heavenali.

The first part of the book consists of du Maurier’s notes and drafts relating to the writing of Rebecca – in fact, her notes were used as evidence when she had to defend herself against plagiarism allegations in the 1940s. It’s fascinating to see the similarities and differences between the early outline of her novel and the finished version (did you know that Maxim de Winter was originally called Henry, for example?) and her chapter summaries get longer and more detailed as the story takes shape and the characters develop. The original epilogue – which eventually became the prologue – is included in full and in another piece of writing, The House of Secrets, du Maurier describes her discovery of Menabilly, the house in Cornwall that was the inspiration for Manderley in Rebecca and later became Daphne’s home.

The rest of the book collects together some of the essays and poetry written by du Maurier, including the piece about her grandfather, George du Maurier, which I quoted from above, and other biographical accounts of her father, who was the famous actor-manager Gerald du Maurier, and her cousins, the Llewelyn Davies children, who inspired JM Barrie’s Peter Pan. Having previously read Daphne’s autobiography Myself When Young, I was already familiar with some of this information but was happy to read it again, from a slightly different perspective.

In her other essays, du Maurier discusses subjects such as Shakespeare, her views on romantic love and her feelings on becoming a widow. She talks a lot about fame and what it’s like to live life in the public eye; coming from what we would now consider a ‘celebrity family’ and being a private person herself, it’s understandable that this topic would be of particular relevance to her.

Tip the scales, and the hands that acclaim the artist become the hands that tear him to pieces. The wreath of laurel is the crown of thorns. The actor and the writer are especially vulnerable today, when worldwide publicity through press and television makes them into that treacherous thing, a ‘personality’.

None of these pieces are very long – the whole book is under 200 pages long – but I found most of them interesting and insightful. They don’t really need to be read in any particular order either, so it’s the sort of book you can easily dip in and out of and come back to later. Most people who pick up this collection will probably do so because of the Rebecca connection, but be aware that only a relatively short section of the book is devoted to Rebecca; however, if you’re interested in du Maurier as a person as well as a writer and would like to try some of her non-fiction, this is a good place to start.

Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier – #DDMReadingWeek

This is my second contribution to Ali’s Daphne du Maurier Reading Week. As I mentioned in my first post, I have now read all of du Maurier’s novels and short story collections, but still have plenty of her non-fiction books to read. This one, originally published in 1977 as Growing Pains: The Shaping of a Writer, was written towards the end of her career but based on diaries kept throughout her childhood and into her twenties. A lot of the information in this book was already familiar to me through a biography I read a few years ago, Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing by Jane Dunn, but it was still interesting to read it again in du Maurier’s own words this time.

Daphne and her two sisters, Angela and Jeanne, were part of a famous theatrical and artistic family – both of their parents, Gerald du Maurier and Muriel Beaumont, were actors and their grandfather, George du Maurier was a cartoonist and author, best known for creating the character Svengali in his 1894 novel Trilby. Daphne undoubtedly had a privileged childhood, being educated privately by governesses before being sent to finishing school in France, but it’s clear that she didn’t always feel very comfortable with the sort of lifestyle into which she’d been born. As a shy and solitary child – the book begins with a vivid description of four-year-old Daphne being ushered into the drawing room with a group of ladies who had come to visit baby Jeanne and being frightened and overwhelmed by the noise – she retreated into a world of imagination, spending her time reading, writing and performing in plays with her sisters. From an early age, Daphne found herself drawn to male roles, eventually creating her own alter ego, Eric Avon, a character whom she said would emerge again later (in different forms) as the male narrator of five of her novels – I’ll Never Be Young Again, My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat, The Flight of the Falcon and The House on the Strand.

She talks a lot about her childhood homes in London – Cumberland Terrace, Regent’s Park and Cannon Hall, Hampstead – and the influence they had on her early life:

Who can ever affirm, or deny that the houses which have sheltered us as children, or as adults, and our predecessors too, do not have embedded in their walls, one with the dust and cobwebs, one with the overlay of fresh wallpaper and paint, the imprint of what-has-been, the suffering, the joy? We are all ghosts of yesterday, and the phantom of tomorrow awaits us alike in sunshine or in shadow, dimly perceived at times, never entirely lost.

Later, of course, when the family bought a holiday home in Cornwall, she would fall in love with that part of the country, and in this book she describes her first sight of Menabilly, the house that would appear in The King’s General and as Manderley in Rebecca, and her first trip to Bodmin Moor, where she discovered the old coaching inn that would inspire yet another of her famous novels, Jamaica Inn.

As well as places, she writes about the people who had important roles to play in her life; her adoration of her charismatic father comes through strongly, although her feelings for her mother are less clear, while she also devotes a lot of time to discussing her various love affairs, including her flirtations with her much older married cousin Geoffrey, a brief romance with the film director Carol Reed, and her very close relationship with Fernande Yvon, one of the teachers at her Paris finishing school. Right at the end of the book, she meets her future husband, Tommy ‘Boy’ Browning, who had read her novel The Loving Spirit and sailed to Fowey in Cornwall in search of its author. A few months later they get married but this is where the book ends and as there is no sequel, we aren’t given the opportunity to read her thoughts on her married life.

I enjoyed Myself When Young, particularly the first half where she writes about her childhood, the houses she lived in, the games she played with her sisters and her thoughts on the books she read. I wasn’t quite as interested in the later chapters, apart from where we were given some insights into the writing of her early novels and short stories – such as the difficulties she had in writing Parts Three and Four of The Loving Spirit or where she was when the character of Julius popped into her head. I would have liked more of this, but I suppose it wasn’t really the purpose of the book. Still, it was lovely to learn more about one of my favourite authors and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of her non-fiction.

My Daphne du Maurier journey – #DDMreadingweek

This week Ali is hosting another of her Daphne du Maurier Reading Weeks. Du Maurier is one of my favourite authors and over the years I have managed to read all of her novels and short story collections, finishing last May with Castle Dor (my choice for the last Reading Week). I still have plenty of her non-fiction books left to read and hope to post a review of one of them later this week, but today I thought it would be interesting to look back at my journey through her fiction. Below are my thoughts on her novels and short story collections – and to make things more fun, I have ranked them in order of favourite to least favourite!

The Novels

1. Rebecca – This was the first novel I read by Daphne du Maurier when I was sixteen and many years and several re-reads later it is still my favourite. This story of the second Mrs de Winter, haunted by the memory of her husband’s first wife, is a classic for a reason. From the famous opening line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”, to the very last page, it’s a wonderful, atmospheric read.

2. The House on the Strand – I started reading this on New Year’s Day in 2011 and knew immediately that it was going to be one of my books of the year. It’s a time travel novel set partly in 14th century Cornwall, but it wasn’t the historical storyline that interested me so much as the method of time travel itself and the implications it has for the lives of our present day (1960s) characters.

3. My Cousin Rachel – If a newcomer to du Maurier’s work asked me what they should read next after Rebecca, this story of a young man who can’t decide whether or not his cousin Rachel is a murderer would be my recommendation. The plot is obviously very different, but it has a similarly dark and brooding atmosphere.

4. The Scapegoat – I love stories about mistaken identities, twins and doubles and this is a wonderful variation on that theme. It’s a book that I’m particularly looking forward to re-reading at some point, as I seem to have interpreted it quite differently from a lot of other readers and am curious to see if I still have the same theories about it.

5. The King’s General – Although this well-researched historical novel didn’t make it into my top four, it’s another favourite. Set in 17th century Cornwall during the English Civil War, it’s the story of Honor Harris, the victim of a tragic accident that threatens to destroy her future, and Richard Grenvile, the King’s General in the West. Part of the novel takes place at Menabilly, du Maurier’s own home which was also the inspiration for Manderley in Rebecca.

6. Frenchman’s Creek – It took me a while to get into this story of Dona St Columb and her love for a mysterious French pirate, but once I did I was swept away by it. I loved the dreamlike atmosphere and the beautifully described setting. Du Maurier’s sense of place is always wonderful but I found some of the images in this book particularly vivid.

7. Jamaica Inn – I first read this as a teenager after finishing Rebecca, which proved to be a mistake as although it’s a great novel in its own right, I think it suffered from being read immediately after a book I had loved so much. I decided to read it again a few years ago and this time I really enjoyed this Gothic tale of smugglers and shipwrecks set on the Cornish coast.

8. The Parasites – After a slow start, I loved this book about three siblings looking back on their childhood and wondering whether they really were ‘parasites’, as a family member once described them. Since reading this book several years ago, I have read some biographies of du Maurier and can see how some elements of the novel were inspired by her own childhood. Despite the title, this book contains some of the funniest scenes in all of du Maurier’s work.

9. The Loving Spirit – This was du Maurier’s first novel and having heard that it wasn’t as good as her later books I wasn’t expecting too much from it. However, I was very pleasantly surprised. The book is divided into four parts each telling the story of a different generation of the Coombe family, a shipbuilding family from Cornwall, and is an impressive achievement from a twenty-four-year-old author.

10. Hungry Hill – I love a good historical family saga and although this is a very bleak and depressing one, I still found it an interesting read – and nothing like The Loving Spirit, her other family saga. This one is set in 19th century Ireland and follows a copper-mining family over five generations. The characters are unpleasant and unlikeable and they suffer every kind of misfortune and tragedy you can imagine, but there was still something very compelling about this novel and I think it deserves a place in the middle of my list.

11. The Flight of the Falcon – Most of the details of this one have faded from my memory now, but although it wasn’t a favourite, I know I did enjoy it. I do remember some wonderful descriptions of the fictional Italian university town of Ruffano and a plot involving the re-enactment of the ‘flight’ of the city’s 15th century ruler, Duke Claudio.

12. Julius – This is probably the darkest and most disturbing of du Maurier’s novels – the story of an ambitious, ruthless man who manipulates everyone around him in order to get what he wants. Despite the unlikeable character (one of the most horrible people I’ve come across in fiction), and some anti-Semitism, I found this a gripping novel with some beautifully atmospheric descriptive writing.

13. I’ll Never Be Young Again – This ‘coming of age’ story is one of several du Maurier novels to have a male narrator and I think she writes from a man’s perspective very well. Richard is an immature, selfish young man at the start of the novel but his life begins to change through his relationships with Jake, a friend with whom he travels around Norway, and Hesta, a woman he meets in Paris. I came to this book having only read Rebecca and Jamaica Inn and found it completely different, but surprisingly good despite the main character being so annoying!

14. Rule Britannia – This is an unusual du Maurier novel in which our protagonist, Emma, wakes up one day to find that the UK has broken away from Europe to form an alliance with the US, creating a new country known as USUK. Published in 1972, this novel may once have seemed like pure fantasy but has a new relevance in post-Brexit Britain! It’s fascinating, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as most of her other books.

15. Mary Anne – A book of two very different halves for me. I loved the first half, which describes (in fictional form) the early life of Mary Anne Clarke, du Maurier’s great-great-grandmother, who is born into a poor London family in the 1770s but goes on to become the mistress of Prince Frederick, Duke of York. The second half of the novel is devoted to several political scandals and court cases in which Mary Anne became involved and I found these quite tedious to read about, which is why this book isn’t higher on my list.

16. The Glass-Blowers – This historical novel based loosely on du Maurier’s own ancestors and set during the French Revolution should have been just my sort of book, so I was disappointed not to have enjoyed it more. I felt that it didn’t have quite the sense of time and place that some of her other books have, which was surprising considering the setting. However, even though it ranks as a lowly 16/17 on my list, I would still recommend reading it. It’s not a bad book at all – just not a personal favourite.

17. Castle Dor – It’s maybe not surprising that this is my least favourite du Maurier novel, as part of it was written by another author, Arthur Quiller-Couch, known as Q. Set in the 19th century and based on the legend of Tristan and Iseult, it should have been a great story, but I never felt fully engaged with either the plot or the characters and I would only really recommend this one if, like me, you’re planning to read all of du Maurier’s work.

The Short Stories

1. The Birds and Other Stories – I’m not usually a fan of short stories, but I love du Maurier’s. Her short story collections are harder for me to rank because each one contains some stories I loved and others I didn’t, but I think this one is the best. Many people are familiar with the title story, in which a family find their home under attack from a huge flock of birds, through the Alfred Hitchcock film, but the others are good too and I particularly enjoyed The Old Man!

2. Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – Originally published as Not After Midnight and Other Stories. This collection only contains five stories, but that means they’re long enough for plenty of character and plot development. I loved Don’t Look Now (which was also adapted for film) and Not After Midnight, but my favourite story was A Border-Line Case.

3. The Breaking Point: Short Stories – This is a dark and unsettling collection of stories written during a time in her life when du Maurier said she had been close to a nervous breakdown. Some of the stories are very enjoyable, such as The Alibi, The Blue Lenses and The Lordly Ones, but I found this collection more uneven than the two above, which is why it’s only third on my list.

4. The Doll: Short Stories – These thirteen ‘lost’ stories were written very early in Daphne’s career but not published until more recently. Although some of the stories feel quite short and incomplete there are some very strong ones in this collection too and I noticed some themes, ideas and settings that would appear again later in du Maurier’s future work.

5. The Rendezvous and Other Stories – I read this in 2009 and it was the first Daphne du Maurier book I’d read since Rebecca and Jamaica Inn as a teenager. Like the stories in The Doll, these are early examples of du Maurier’s work and some are too short to be very satisfying, but again there are plenty of signs of the great writer she would become.

I know there are other editions available that contain different combinations of these stories, but I think these are the five main collections. I am now continuing to work through du Maurier’s non-fiction – so far I have read Golden Lads and The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë.


If you have read some or all of these books, let me know what you think of my list! Would you have put them in a different order? And if you’re new or nearly new to Daphne du Maurier, which of these are you looking forward to reading?

Castle Dor by Daphne du Maurier

My choice for this year’s Daphne du Maurier Reading Week (hosted by Ali of Heavenali) is one of du Maurier’s more obscure novels; in fact, it’s debatable whether it should really be considered one of her novels at all, as it was begun by another author, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, also known as Q. At the time of his death, Quiller-Couch had left the novel unfinished and du Maurier completed it at the request of his daughter. I have seen some very mixed reviews of this book so wasn’t expecting too much from it; however, I have now read all of her other books – apart from some of her non-fiction – so I wanted to read this one as well for completion.

Published in 1961, Castle Dor is set in 19th century Cornwall and is based on the legend of Tristan and Iseult. The novel opens with a chance encounter between Linnet Lewarne, a young woman married to a much older man, and Amyot Trestane, a Breton onion seller, who fall in love and embark on a romance which will closely follow the events of the legend. Linnet and Amyot themselves are unaware of the parallels with that much older love story, although they know that something unusual is happening to them – that they have knowledge they really shouldn’t possess, are using words that should be unknown to them, and are behaving in ways they cannot control.

Local doctor and scholar Dr Carfax has a particular interest in Cornish legends and as he observes Linnet and Amyot together, he grows more and more concerned about the relationship between them and how it is mirroring the tale of Tristan and Iseult – and he begins to wonder whether he himself is playing a role in the retelling of the story.

If you’re not familiar with Tristan and Iseult, I won’t tell you what happens, but like most legendary love stories, it’s dramatic and tragic. Something in the way the novel is written, though, makes it feel less dramatic and tragic than I had expected, which was disappointing; the characters feel strangely flat and never really come to life and I struggled to believe in the romance between Linnet and Amyot. I expect that is at least partly due to the change in authors in the middle of the book; we will never know how Q had planned to develop the characters or how du Maurier would have depicted them if she had written the book from the start.

The exact point where du Maurier takes over from Q is not known and the transition is smooth and seamless so it’s not easy to detect the change, but I definitely noticed a difference in the writing style in the later parts of the book. The earlier chapters, which we know were definitely written by Q, are more heavily laden with historical and geographical detail as Carfax and his friends discuss various sources of the Tristan and Iseult story and try to locate some of the landmarks associated with the legend. I found this interesting, but not particularly compelling; the second half of the book was faster paced and more engaging as du Maurier brought the story towards its conclusion.

Although there are some similarities with du Maurier’s later time travel novel, The House on the Strand, this book is not really representative of her work (I think it’s unfair that Quiller-Couch is not credited on the cover). Unless you’re particularly interested in Tristan and Iseult, I think it’s one you should come to after reading some of her other novels first; it definitely wouldn’t give you the best impression of the qualities I love in her work. Still, Castle Dor was an interesting read and I have now reached my goal of reading all of Daphne du Maurier’s novels!

This is also book 16/50 read from my second Classics Club list.

The Doll: Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier

This week Ali is hosting a Daphne du Maurier Reading Week and as du Maurier is one of my favourite authors, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to read one of the few remaining books of hers that I still haven’t read. As I’ve enjoyed some of du Maurier’s short story collections in the past, I decided to read The Doll, her book of ‘lost short stories’, most of which were written very early in her writing career (mainly between 1926 and 1932) but not published until more recently. My expectations for this book weren’t too high as I thought there might be a reason why these particular stories had been forgotten for so long, but actually I was pleasantly surprised by it. Although some of the stories in the collection feel too short and incomplete, there are some great ones amongst them too.

As is often the case when you read an author’s early work, it’s possible to see the seeds of du Maurier’s later work being planted and future themes and ideas being experimented with. The title story, The Doll, written when the author was twenty years old, follows a man who falls in love with a violinist by the name of Rebecca. As his love turns into obsession, he discovers that he has a rival in the form of a life-sized doll called Julio. This is a dark and creepy story and the name of the character makes it difficult not to think of du Maurier’s most famous novel Rebecca (especially as there are some similarities between the two Rebeccas).

The Happy Valley also foreshadows Rebecca in some ways and involves a woman who has recurring dreams of a house in a place she calls the Happy Valley. With its ghostly undertones and supernatural twist, this was one of the stories that particularly impressed me. It also has the strong sense of place and beautiful descriptive writing I associate with du Maurier’s work, as does another of the stories – East Wind – in which the wind changes direction and blows a boat full of sailors ashore on a remote island. The arrival of the newcomers brings a great deal of excitement to the isolated island community, but temptation and evil have also come in with the tide and will leave their mark when the wind changes again.

It was almost as if there were no such place, as if the island were a dream, a phantom creation of a sailor’s brain, something rising out of the sea at midnight as a challenge to reality, then vanishing in surf and mist to be forgotten, to be half-consciously remembered years later, flickering for a bewildered second in a dusty brain as a dead thought. Yet to the people of St Hilda’s the island was reality, the ships that came and went were their phantoms.

Another story that stood out for me was Tame Cat, a disturbing tale of an innocent young girl referred to only as Baby who returns home from a long absence in France and is reunited with her mother and the man she calls Uncle John. Baby has always thought of Uncle John as being like a tame cat, but now that she is growing up and becoming a woman she finds that his position in the family is not quite as she’d always assumed.

Some of the topics that seem to come up again and again throughout this collection are young couples falling in and out of love and husbands and wives growing disillusioned with their marriages. Sometimes du Maurier treats this in a humorous way, such as in Frustration, where a newly married couple embark on their honeymoon and everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and Week-End, where another couple go away for the weekend believing themselves to be madly in love, but gradually discover that they don’t even like each other – something which comes as a relief when they realise they won’t have to speak to each other using ridiculous baby talk anymore! Other stories are more poignant; I loved Nothing Hurts for Long, a sad story about a woman preparing to welcome her husband home after three months in Germany. When a friend tells her about the disintegration of her own marriage, she is sympathetic but convinced that the same thing couldn’t possibly happen to her…

She went and stood before the looking-glass. Perhaps he would creep in suddenly and stand behind her, and put his hands on her shoulders, and lean his face against hers.

She closed her eyes. Darling! Was that a taxi? No – nothing. ‘This wasn’t how I imagined it at all,’ she thought.

There are thirteen stories in the collection so I’m not going to discuss all of them here, but there were only one or two that I didn’t like very much. The overall quality is not as good as some of the other du Maurier collections I’ve read, Don’t Look Now and Other Stories, The Birds and Other Stories or The Breaking Point: Short Stories, and I don’t think I would recommend this book as a starting point for readers who are new to du Maurier’s work, but if you’re already a fan I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.

The Breaking Point: Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier

Having enjoyed some of Daphne du Maurier’s other short story collections – The Birds and Other Stories, The Rendezvous and Other Stories and Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – I’ve been looking forward to reading this one. Originally published in 1959 and written at a time when du Maurier herself said she had been close to a nervous breakdown, the eight stories in this collection are particularly dark and unsettling.

There is a paragraph just before the introduction in my Virago edition of the book which gives an idea of the common theme linking the stories and why the title The Breaking Point was chosen:

There comes a moment in the life of every individual when reality must be faced. When this happens, it is as though a link between emotion and reason is stretched to the limit of endurance, and sometimes snaps. In this collection of stories, men, women, children and a nation are brought to the breaking-point. Whether the link survives or snaps, the reader must judge for himself.

I enjoyed this book, but I found the first three stories by far the strongest and some of the others slightly disappointing in comparison. For this reason, I preferred The Birds and Don’t Look Now, which I felt were more even in quality. Anyway, the first story in the book, The Alibi, gets the collection off to a great start. A man, bored with his life, his marriage and his daily routine, makes an impulsive decision to rent a room in a house chosen at random. Adopting a new identity, soon he is spending every spare moment at the house, but what is his real motive for doing this? This is a creepy and disturbing story; the suspense builds and builds as we wait to see whether it will end in the way we hope it won’t!

The Blue Lenses is a very strange story about Marda West, a woman who has been having eye surgery. When her bandages are removed and she is fitted with a new pair of lenses, she finds that the people around her look very unusual – in fact, you could say that she is finally seeing them for what they really are. I can’t say much more without completely spoiling the story, but Marda’s situation is both frightening and fascinating. I loved this story and thought the twist at the end was perfect.

The next one, Ganymede, reminded me of Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, both in setting and in plot. A man is visiting Venice for a relaxing October break when a young man working in a restaurant catches his eye. As the days go by, he becomes more and more obsessed with the young waiter, whom he thinks of as ‘Ganymede’. This is another very suspenseful story, as it quickly becomes obvious that things are not going to go smoothly for our narrator – and in du Maurier’s hands, Venice becomes an eerie and sinister setting where we know some sort of tragedy is going to happen.

In the next story, The Pool, we meet Deborah and Roger, two children staying at their grandparents’ house for the summer. One day Deborah escapes from her younger brother and enters the woods nearby, where she discovers a pool which seems to lead into a secret world. I didn’t like this story as much as the first three – although, as always, du Maurier’s descriptions are beautiful and vivid. The Archduchess, which follows, is an account of a revolution in a fictional European country called Ronda. This was the only story in the collection that actually bored me – there seemed to be a huge amount of world-building and scene-setting, with very little plot or depth of character – but it’s possible that I didn’t fully understand what she was trying to say.

I wasn’t sure what to make of The Menace either. It seemed like a science fiction story at first, about a new filming technology known as ‘feelies’ where actors are wired up to a machine powered by their own life-force. This aspect of the story is never really explained, but I did enjoy getting to know actor Barry Jeans as we follow him through a twenty-four-hour period and I loved the ending. The Chamois is another of the weaker stories in the collection, but still an interesting one. A woman travels to Greece with her husband so that he can hunt chamois, but as they climb further into the mountains, the cracks in their marriage start to show and the woman’s deepest fears become exposed.

Finally, The Lordly Ones is a great story to finish with. Ben is a young mute boy who feels neglected and unloved by his parents. When the family move to a new house in the countryside, he escapes to the moors one night and for the first time in his life feels welcomed and cared for by another family he thinks of as The Lordly Ones. This is a very short story with a clever twist at the end that made me want to go back to the beginning and read it again!

Overall, I do recommend The Breaking Point but if you’re new to du Maurier’s short stories, I would suggest reading The Birds or Don’t Look Now collections first as I thought they were stronger. I still have The Doll, her collection of ‘lost’ stories to read, and will try to get to that book soon.