“Don’t Look Now” (Post 1/2)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/2


 

A collection of five tense novellas by Daphne du Maurier, published in 1971 (in Britain, under the title Not After Midnight). Page numbers refer to a first edition hardcover. A paperback edition (with a horrible cover) is available.

5 out of 5 stars.

This is my first du Maurier book, though film adaptations of her work (Hitchcock’s The Birds and Rebecca and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now) are rightful classics. Being a fan of the movie Don’t Look Now for years, I decided to finally track this down. Best book decision of the year (so far).


 

DON’T LOOK NOW

John and Laura vacation in Venice in an attempt to recover after the unexpected death of their young daughter. A chance, possibly supernatural, encounter warns them of doom; a threat believed by Laura and brushed off by John.

[1] One of du Maurier’s strongest abilities in this collection is to set the scene – weather, location – quickly and poetically.

The sight of the water, limpid, pale, was a soothing contrast to the fierce sun above their heads.

(p.12)

[2] du Maurier also knows how to handle dialogue. There’s an ease and rhythm to it; maintaining a sense of Britishness without feeling stuffy.

“Don’t,” said Laura. “It’s cruel, poor thing,” and then suddenly putting her hand on his knee, “Do you think Christine is sitting here beside us?”

He did not answer at once. What was there to say? Would it be like this forever?

“I expect so,” he said slowly, “if you feel she is.”

(p.12)

[3] Section breaks are avoided in this story, which is an interesting choice. The passage of time is stated in the text instead of implied through breaks (see also the last sentence in [4]).

“Never,” said Laura, some twenty minutes later, “has so much junk been piled into so small a basket.”

(p.13)

It creates a relentless, dreamlike atmosphere. The plot does not ease or let up and the text gives you no good place to pause. The feeling of dread increases for our main character with no way to escape or rest.

[4] Sex scenes are a tricky business. They can easily result in embarrassing passages, but Du Maurier handles this confidently and swiftly.

Now, he thought afterwards, now at last is the moment to make love, and he went back into the bedroom, and she understood, and opened her arms and smiled. Such blessed relief after all those weeks of restraint.

“The thing is,” she said later, fixing her ear-rings before the looking glass, “I’m not terribly hungry.”

(p.15)

[5] Vocabulary:

Emerging presently behind the ducal palace [they] came out into the Piazza San Marco.

(p.24)

adjective – of, like, or relating to a duke or dukedom.

[6] Reference:

“The little red house where d’Annunzio lived.”

(p.30)

General Gabriele D’Annunzio, Prince of Montenevoso, Duke of Gallese: Italian writer, poet, journalist, playwright and WWI soldier (1863 – 1938). He first saw Venice in 1887 and returned through the 1890s and beyond. Made it his home during World War I (I’m guessing this is when he had himself a “little red house”).


A great opening story for this collection. It builds tension steadily from several plot angles without getting overwhelmed:

-John and Laura’s ill son back in England

-Laura’s ‘disappearance’

-Psychic women warning John to get out of Venice

-Murderer on the loose

The story and film are both worth experiencing. The screenplay writers for Roeg’s version (Allan Scott and Chris Bryant) did an incredible job expanding a fifty page story into a two-hour film. The changed elements are perfect (John and Laura are living in Venice for an extended period because of John’s work versus a short holiday; their daughter died in a drowning instead of an illness, etc). It would be amazing to use this in a film/literature course, to show how adaptations can expand without losing the essence of the original.


 

THE BREAKTHROUGH

In a vaguely Lovecraftian set-up, an engineer is brought into a secretive experimental project searching for answers of what lies beyond death. 

[7] Vocabulary:

A long-faced, saturnine fellow, with close-cropped grizzled hair, stood by the sideboard.

(p.70)

adjective – (of a person or their manner) slow and gloomy

            (of a place or an occasion) gloomy

[8] Reference:

The peculiar composition of Piero della Francesca’s Flagellation of Christ.

(p.71)

Piero della Francesca (1415 – 1492) was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. He painted the Flagellation of Christ around 1455. It’s probably best just to look at the painting. It does have a very odd composition (three figures close to the viewer at the right, five figures on the left, inside of a room). A strange perspective. It looks like two paintings set together.

[9] I would never think to construct a paragraph like this. It works very well.

Young Ken – whose conversation during dinner had consisted of a series of private jokes with Robbie, while MacLean discoursed on mountain climbing in Crete, the beauty of flamingoes [sic] on the wing in the Camargue, and the peculiar composition of Piero della Francesca’s Flagellation of Christ – was the first to rise from the table and ask leave to be dismissed.

(p.71)

That is technically one sentence. It would have taken me at least three very repetitive ones to get the same point across.

[10]

The sea broke with a monotonous roar, sucking at the dragging stones, only to renew the effort and spend itself once more.

(p.77)

[11]

I resumed my bacon feeling I had put Robbie in his place. He finished his herrings, then started on the toast and marmalade.

“Ever watched anyone die?” he asked suddenly.

“As a matter of fact, no,” I answered.

(p.80)

[12]

“Does anything bother you?” asked the voice.

There was a long pause before the answer, and when it came the tone was impatient, almost fretful.

“It’s the hanging about. I want it to happen quickly. If it could be over and done with, then I wouldn’t give a damn.”

I might have been standing by a confessional, and I understood now why my predecessor had turned in his job. I saw Robbie’s eyes upon me; the demonstration had been staged not only to show Ken’s co-operation under hypnosis, proved no doubt dozens of times already, but to test my nerve. The ordeal continued. Much of what Ken said made painful hearing. I don’t want to repeat it here. It revealed the unconscious strain under which he lived, never outwardly apparent either to us or himself.

(p.87)

I’ve never encountered an author pulling this in a first person story (“I don’t want to repeat it here”). I like it. It deepens both characters – the narrator (Steve) and the boy under hypnosis (Ken) – by refusing to go into detail; the old “the horror you imagine is worse than any that can be described.”

[13] This is the nice reversal on the anti-atheist argument that, without belief in God, why would anyone be moral or good to others?

“[If] immortality in some form or another becomes a certainty, the whole meaning of life on earth is changed.”

Yes, I thought, changed forever. The fusion of science and religion in a partnership at first joyous, then the inevitable disenchantment, the scientist realizing, and the priest with him, that, with eternity assured, the human being on earth is more easily expendable. Dispatch the maimed, the old, the weak, destroy the very world itself, for what is the point of life if the promise of fulfillment lies elsewhere?

(p.103)


Another very strong story touching the edges of horror and the supernatural in a classy-as-hell way. And handling a subject like Stephen King’s Revival with about an eighth of the length (that book would have been amazing cut down to a novella like this).


 

Post 2/2

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