Oct 30, 2008

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

Originally published as The Apple Tree, this book collects six creepy tales by Daphne du Maurier. And let me start by saying how much I loved it. I suspect it has earned a spot among my favourite short story collections. I found three of the six stories completely perfect. The other three were enjoyable too, but even if they had been downright bad, the book would still be a complete winner for me, because I loved the remaining three that much.

“The Birds”, the story that inspired by Hitchcock movie of the same name, was my favourite in the book. It was also probably the creepiest story I have read in my life. If you find the movie creepy, then be prepared. This is much worse. The mood of the story is almost post-apocalyptic (actually, remove that “almost”), and the its implications sent shivers down my spine.

For those who don’t know, “The Birds” is a story about what happens when birds turn against humankind. And if you’re wondering how much harm birds can do, just think of how many birds there are. Strength in numbers. I should explain that to find this story as creepy as I did, you probably have to be me. See, I have a thing with birds. It’s not that I dislike them, but at some level I find them deeply unsettling. Their beaks, their claws, their beady eyes. The sight of motionless wings. The sound of a bird beating its wings in an enclosed space. And don't let me get started on what the sight of dead birds does to me. And this story was full of dead birds, of birds breaking their necks by flying against walls and windows, of the sound of wings, of birds rasping and tearing, of beaks and claws. Let me stop now before I give myself nightmares.

Anyway, even if you’re not me, this story is most likely still very disturbing. And the writing, the pace, the structure, the implications, everything was brilliant. I think this collection is worth reading for the title story alone.

“Monte Verità” was another perfect story. The narrator is an old man who tells his story in a flashback. I find the way du Maurier structured it brilliant – you start by reading the ending, but it’s written in a way that intrigues you without giving too much away. Yet when you get to the end, you absolutely have to go back and read those first few pages again, and it is only then that their full meaning becomes clear.

Anyway, what this story is about is a strange community of priestesses who live at Monte Verità, and how the narrator lost his best friend’s wife and eventually his best friend because of them. You’ll have to trust me that the story is actually a lot more interesting than this short summary makes it sound. It’s mysterious and eerie and it’s written in a style that reminded me a little of H.G. Wells’ short fiction. Which is a very good thing.

“The Apple Tree” is a very strange little tale about a man who begins to believe that an apple tree in his garden possess traits of his recently deceased wife. A supernatural tale or a story about a man slowly losing his mind? The reader decides.

“The Little Photographer” and “Kiss Me Again, Stranger” were my least favourites, but I still found them enjoyable. They’re a little less eerie, and more predictable, than the rest of the collection, and more about crimes than unexplainable events. But both had a film noir atmosphere that I very much enjoyed.

Finally, “The Old Man” completely took me by surprise. The interesting thing is that I’ve seen this done in short stories before, yet I never learn to expect it. I guess it has to do with our tendency to – ah, but I cannot say. This is one of those stories in which the last paragraph gives a whole new meaning to the entire thing. It made me go back to the start to make sure everything fit, only to realize that yes, it very much did.

Where has Daphne du Maurier been all my life? The library has another collection of her short fiction, Don’t Look Now and Other Stories, and I suspect I’ll be checking it out before long.

Other Blog Reviews:
Nothing of Importance ("The Apple Tree, "The Birds")

(Let me know if I missed yours)


  1. O I didn't know she wrote The Birds. That movie creeped me out sooo much when I was little...birds still do today because of that movie. I'll have to check her stories out. Thanks!

  2. Amanda, I didn't know either until recently. I first watched the movie when I was little too, and I wonder how much that has to do with how uneasy birds can make me to this day.

  3. This creepy collection sounds very good. I need to pick this one up, especially since you say The Birds is the creepiest story you've ever read. You know, I've never watched 'The Birds'.


  4. Oh I didn't know The Birds was by her! I knew it was based on a book but I wasn't positive who the author was. Okay, I simply have to add this book to my need to read list.

  5. I didn't know The Birds was based on a book! I saw it in high school and while it was creepy, the special effects were rather comical to me. I would probably find the book far more scary.

  6. I just saw a dead bird today, outside my office. And it was a pretty looking bird... Speak of coincidence!

    Great review. I'll have to get this. You bad girl, Nymeth!

  7. I really need to read her short stories after your and Debi's reviews. It's interesting that you found The Birds so creepy! I'm definitely going to have to check that out now since I know it's hard for you to get spooked :p

  8. I can't tell you how thrilled I am that you love her short stories as much as I do! You are soooo right...The Birds is just downright terrifying! I always thought the movie was scary, but it's nowhere near the nightmare that her original story is! Our library doesn't have anymore of her collections, but I'm definitely going to have buy some because I just love them so much. I hope you enjoy "Don't Look Now"...it was one of my favorites. And I hope that book has "The Blue Lenses"...it's incredible, and I really think you'd love that one, too. Oh man, you've gone and got me all fired up about her again! And yes, that's a good thing!

  9. well at least I did know that she wrote The Birds! .. strangely enough, The Birds was just on tv last weekend!... still a good movie too!

  10. Hmmm, when I think about birds I think about dinosaurs. And while I don't have a thing against them I do understand the fear. Back here at home a handful of birds usually drop by and somehow make a meal out of the dogs' leftovers :)

    But this collection sounds like a winner I sure hope I can find a copy in my favorite bookstore (where I found my other three Du Maurier books).

    Happy Halloween to you book twin!

  11. i have read only Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and that was ages ago.. need to pick it up again.. i don't even remember what happens in the book.. but after reading your review, i want to pick up this one as well!! all this blog hopping is not good for my wishlist!:)
    thanks for the review!

  12. Oooo, it sounds really good! I'm definitely going to have to read this one.

  13. "The Birds" sounds terrifying. I've got issues with them myself, (especially dead ones; it bothers me that they don't move), and I'm trying to decide whether the story would give me a pleasurable thrill of terror or just scare me out of my mind.

  14. This sounds excellent! Have you read any George duMaurier? His novel "Peter Ibbetson" sounds a lot like Daphne's less-creepy work. I've never read her, but your reviews make me want to go hunt some down.

  15. Did I see a conversation between you and Debi somewhere (maybe her blog) about The Birds? My memory is so bad! Anyway, you've definitely given me another reason to read something by du Maurier--a lot of these sound fantastically creepy (must read with lights on!!). :)

  16. Naida: Not everyone will find it as creepy as I did, but it's still well worth reading.

    Ladytink, I only found out recently too. I hope you enjoy the book!

    Jeane: When I watched I was young enough to not notice the bad special effects...it really creeped me out.

    Alice: Poor bird :(

    Chris: It is hard for me to get spooked, but if someone really wants to see it happen, birds are definitely the way to go :P You know that scene with the flamingoes in Anansi Boys? That also really creeped me out!

    Debi: Unfortunately it doesn't have "The Blue Lenses" :( I really want to read that one! I wonder if there are editions of her complete short stories...that would be something I'd invest in without any second thoughts! But anyway, I look forward to reading "Don't Look Now"! I can't thank you enough for having brought these stories to my attention!

    Deslily: I really want to watch The Birds (and Rebecca) again!

  17. Lightheaded: Thanks, and to you too :D You're right about the dinosaurs connection...I wonder if a hidden part of our brains associates them with giant predators :P I hope you do manage to find the book!

    Ramya: You're welcome! And to answer your question in another comment, I'd recommend this collection over Jamaica Inn. Not that I didn't enjoy Jamaica Inn, but these stories were even better!

    Robin, enjoy it :)

    Memory: Yes, it's the lack of motion that really impresses me...we're used to seeing birds always moving, and when they're dead they're completely still and it just looks so...final and sad and wrong. The story did scare me out of my mind, but I enjoyed reading it in a strange sort of way all the same.

    Ella: I haven't, no. Thanks for the recommendation, though!

    Trish: Probably, as it was Debi's review that first made me want to read this collection. And yes, these are best read with the lights on!

  18. Sounds like a great collection. It has been so long since I read Rebecca and I never knew she wrote the Birds. Will add it to my list thanks.

  19. This does sound good! I have been on a short story kick recently. I still have yet to read anything by this author. I hadn't realized Rebecca had written Birds. Now I may actually have to see the movie!

  20. Rhinoa, I really think you'll enjoy it!

    Literary Feline: it's been a while since I've seen either movie, but I remember them being very good.

  21. I had no idea she wrote that story or that it even was a story. I just know the movie. If the story is creepier than the movie...well, I just have to check it out! Thanks for the great review!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  22. Anna, you really do! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :)

  23. Hi Nymeth, just thought I'd let you know I bought this at Kinokuniya last Saturday along with a few others including two Agatha Christie books. :D

    P/S: Ya... poor bird... :( It was an exotic and unusual looking bird too. Weird.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.