Even if you’ve never read Daphne du Maurier, you are surely familiar with one of her stories, “The Birds.” Alfred Hitchcock’s film departs somewhat from the original, but the basic story is the same. In rural England, just as an unseasonably cold spell brings in December, the birds start acting strangely—not just some birds, but all of the birds. At first their unusual behavior is merely odd; the gulls are floating on the ocean waves in great numbers, and the smaller common birds are pecking at people’s windows and doors. The news media report the phenomenon with a tone of snide amusement on the day the story breaks.
By the second day, the humor is gone from the radio reports. By the third day, the news media have gone silent. Our brave heroes, a family of four—Mom, Dad, and two young children—cannot pick up wireless broadcasts from either foreign or domestic sources, though by this point they are desperate for news: the birds have intensified their attacks on the house. In a desperate bid to learn more, and to replenish their food stores, they venture outside to their neighbors’ house. But the neighbors are in no condition to speak…
The other five stories collected here are every bit as chilling. “Don’t Look Now” reminds us that skeptics ignore the warnings of old blind psychics at their own peril. “The Apple Tree” stars a widower who mistakenly thinks he is free, following the death of his passive-aggressive wife. “The Alibi” features a bored anti-hero who tries to spice things up with a secret double-life; be warned that he might not be the most reliable of narrators. “Not After Midnight” pulls ancient Greek gods, best left to their slumber, forward into the present day.
And my favorite story in the collection, “The Blue Lenses,” flirts with science fiction. The doctors have implanted corrective lenses onto Marda West’s ailing eyes. Still blind but recovering from her surgery, Marda eagerly anticipates having her vision restored; what she does not anticipate is the most unwelcome side effect of the lenses. They over-correct in the worst way, forcing her to see others—and herself—as they really are.
Check the WRL catalog for Daphne du Maurier’s Classics of the Macabre