“Don’t Look Now” (Post 2/2)

Don't Look Now 02

 

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/2


 

NOT AFTER MIDNIGHT

A fussy, nebbish man on holiday in Greece becomes suspicious of what his neighbors may have done to a previous guest at the hotel. 

[14] Three of the five stories in this collection have a male as the main character/narrator (one has a female; the last drifts between the thoughts of several characters). It’s encouraging to me as a female writer who tends toward male protagonists. Du Maurier’s style is also the kind I aspire to: functional; descriptive when needed but overall plot-driven; focused on mystery/tension with elements of speculative fiction; great dialogue. It’s wonderful to watch these stories unfold.

[15] Q: Why do Americans spell jail the way we do? (British seem to prefer “gaol.”)

A: (From this site):

“From the Latin diminutive caveola came two different forms in Old French: gaiole or gayole in Northern French and jaiole in Parisian French. So by the Middle Ages, English possessed two forms of the word: gayol, or the striking variant gayhole; and jaiole or jaile. It should be realized that the form gayol was pronounced with a hard g. In the spoken language, the form with a soft g triumphed. Nevertheless, in writing, thanks to legal language and official conservatism, the spelling gaol was preserved, even though everyone said ‘jail’ when they read the word aloud. In America, official documents favored jail, which is why it still seems to us American, although the pronunciation, derived from Parisian French, was identical on both sides of the Atlantic.”

[16] du Maurier uses little touches to give her narrators great dimensions. A small conversational thing (“Then I saw it. I mean, the snorkel”) makes this character’s voice come alive to me.

The water rippled, yet there was no wind. Then I saw it. I mean, the snorkel. The little pipe was caught an instant in the yellow gleam, but before I lost it I knew that it was heading in a direct course for the rocks beneath my chalet. I waited.

(p.142)

[17] I love reading a new (to me) author during great, tense scenes like this because, not yet knowing their style, I have no idea what to expect. I don’t know how far they’ll go.

Suddenly, out of the dark stillness to my right, the snorkel-pipe was caught in a finger-thread of light from my own balcony. Now it was almost immediately below me. I panicked, turned, and fled inside my room, closing the shutters fast. I switched off the balcony light and stood against the wall between my bedroom and bathroom, listening. The soft air filtered through the shutters beside me. It seemed an eternity before the sound I expected, dreaded, came to my ears. A kind of swishing movement from the balcony, a fumbling of hands, and heavy breathing. I could see nothing from where I stood against the wall, but the sounds came through the chinks in the shutters, and I knew she was there (…)

She began to rattle on the shutters. I took no notice. She rattled again. Then she found the bell, and the shrill summons pierced the air above my head with all the intensity of a dentist’s drill upon a nerve. She rang three times. Then silence. No more rattling of the shutters. No more breathing. She might yet be crouching on the balcony, the water dripping from the black rubber suit, waiting for me to lose patience, to emerge.

(p.143)


“Not After Midnight” is ultimately the weakest story in the book. The climax felt underwhelming after the build. But in a collection like this, we’re still talking a four-star effort.


 

A BORDER-LINE CASE

After Shelagh’s father’s sudden death, she travels to Ireland to find his estranged friend.

[18] du Maurier makes a couple of interesting stylistic choices in this one. The story is in third person, but the main character’s thoughts are given in the first person without the usual device of using italics. Dialogue is also occasionally worked into the narrative without quotations. It makes for a slightly disordered narrative, paring nicely with Shelagh’s personality.

It’s always the same when you come face to face with death, the nurse told her, you feel you could have done more. It used to worry me a lot when I was training. And of course with a close relative its worse. You’ve had a great shock, you must try and pull yourself together for your mother’s sake… My mother’s sake? My mother would not mind if I walked out of the house this moment, Shelagh was on the point of saying, because then she would have all the attention, all the sympathy, people would say how wonderfully she was bearing up, whereas with me in the house sympathy will be divided.

(p.165)

[19] Reference:

The small black patch over the left eye suggested Moshe Dayan.

(p.189)

Moshe Dayan (1915 – 1981) was an Israeli military leader and politician. He lost his left eye in 1941 when shot by a sniper while using binoculars.

[20] Reference:

When the thing goes right, as it had for me tonight, then it’s arrows splintering the sky, it’s forest fires, it’s Agincourt.

(p.215)

The Battle of Agincourt: Major English victory in the Hundred Years’ War. The battle took place on October 25, 1415 and is the centerpiece of Shakespeare’s Henry V. (The main character of this story has just been cast as one of the lead actresses in a series of Shakespeare productions, so the reference is apt. Also, as you can probably tell, I do not know my Shakespeare very well.)


I had no idea what I was in for with this one. The style danced between a Gothic Poe tale and a James Bond book. The end managed to combine the two in a dark, twisted way. Don’t ask me how. Just give it a read.


 

THE WAY OF THE CROSS

A group of English tourists visit Jerusalem. Each individual’s paranoia, motivations, fears and hatreds are revealed, showing their weaknesses which, ultimately, make them human.

[21]

Little Robin was such an original child. Fancy him making that remark about Our Lord being surprised if he could see electric light. “But He invented it, dear,” she had told him. “Everything that has ever been invented or discovered was Our Lord’s doing.” She was afraid it had not sunk into his little mind. No matter. There would be other opportunities to make the right impression upon him.

(p.243)

[22] Extremely good command of words, punctuation – this is technically one sentence and its very strong and clear throughout:

It seemed to Lady Althea, as she stood there above the steps, that all the people pressing forward were staring, not at the Dome of the Rock, but at her alone, and were nudging one another, whispering, smiling; for she knew, from her own experience of mocking others, that there is nothing more likely to unite a crowd of strangers in a wave of laughter than the sight of someone who, with dignity shattered, becomes suddenly grotesque.

(p.279)

[23] And, in a good contrast to [22], this is the kind of confused construction I dread getting stuck in the middle of:

Jill Smith had told Mr. Foster that Father had said to her mother that she, Mary Dean, was a thorn in his flesh. Had pursued him for years. It was a lie, of course.

(p.288)

I would probably try something like: Father had been telling people that she, Mary Dean, was a thorn in the flesh. At least that’s what Jill Smith had told Mr. Foster. It was a lie, of course.


“The Way of the Cross” feels very much like Steinbeck’s Wayward Bus, capturing the misunderstandings, antagonizing actions and nasty insecure thoughts that pass through our thoughts while we smile. Du Maurier does an amazing job of jumping around between the inner thoughts of all of the characters and giving them vivid, distinct personalities.


 

Don’t Look Now is an excellent collection. If you’re looking for very good writing with touches of the supernatural and bizarre (and fantastic amounts of tension), go for this. I need to read more by du Maurier as soon as possible.

Next week: Silence of the Lambs.

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