Ahem, Poe: You might not want to check over your shoulder. Just in time for Halloween — Daphne du Maurier, the British writer who penned such classics as “Escort,” “Don’t Look Now,” and “The Birds” reappears in a new collection of the odd, eerie and macabre. Du Maurier’s output was classic stuff of the 1950s and ’60s: Hitchcock used her stories for several films, for instance. She was extraordinarily prolific, but a great deal of her work has been out of print for decades. This collection showcases her cult and not-so-cult classics in all their chilling, uneasy glory. Du Maurier is a master of the peaceful beginning gone wrong — her stories often launch with would-be landscape paintings of sea or scenery, behind which some awful pressure builds, threatening, like birds’ beaks, to puncture. Other times the tales begin with the too-tidy house or the too-foggy night. Yet all her beginnings are full of delicious forebodings: In “Split Second,” Mrs. Ellis, the finicky housewife, can’t serve her jam to guests without feeling “a little stab of disappointment: it would mean a gap upon the store cupboard.” Larger confusions and chaos are in store for her as the world she believes she lives in upends and becomes nightmarish: No amount of domestic order can keep that chaos at bay. Again and again, du Maurier’s characters are helpless against the sudden and relentless power of another, more sinister dimension, one that enters through peripheral vision and then encroaches. Best not to look now, or really, ever: Like the evil that rears at the end of the titular “Don’t Look Now,” it is always too late when seen head on.
About the Author
Tess Taylor is the author of the poetry collection The Forage House. Her nonfiction and poetry have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times, and The New Yorker.