Two Short Stories

Two very short and vague reviews because I wanted to take part in Daphne du Maurier Reading Week, hosted by HeavenAli and it ends tomorrow. Not After Midnight and The Way of the Cross are both set during holidays taken at Easter time and are included in the Don’t Look Now collection of short stories and both were unsurprisingly excellent.

In Not After Midnight, Mr Timothy Grey takes a painting holiday in Crete. He’s pompous and stuffy and very funny while cringingly embarrassing – he’s a teacher at a boys prep school but puts ‘professor’ on his passport. Chalet 62 takes his fancy at the resort and he stomps about until he gets it – but why are they so against letting that particular chalet and who was the last person to stay there? While at the bar ordering a lemonade he notices an American couple, the loud obnoxious man is very drunk and beside him his deaf wife sits silently. They are staying at No.38 just across the bay and go out all day everyday An hotel, a small group of people, and a body, what is going on?

‘Then silence. No more rattling of the shutters. No more breathing.’

There’s a tension that runs just under the surface and a point where the story becomes genuinely thrilling. He’s still the same self important twit but now I was caught up in his adventure and rooting for him!

The Way of the Cross was very different, there’s no sense of the macabre and it seemed much more subtle and complex although still only about 50 pages long. A small group of neighbours from Little Bletford have gone on a tour of the Holy Land with their vicar, but when he becomes ill, Edward Babcock, a young vicar who runs youth clubs in his urban parish has to take over. He’s unprepared and the group are displeased. The group are made up of three couples: Bob and Jill Smith, a young couple on their honeymoon, Lady Althea and Colonel Mason of Bletford Hall with their grandson Robin and Jim Foster, a middle aged businessman and his wife, Kate. Miss Dean who is travelling on her own is the most upset as she dearly loves the old vicar.

The story begins with the sort of observations about social class dynamics within the village and our group that are both funny and perfectly realised but as the story moves on and the group first visit the Garden of Gethsemane and then into Jerusalem it becomes much more poignant. Each of the travellers has a moment when they are forced to recognise something in themselves, either from their past or the present, Idle gossip is overheard and causes deep hurt, memories come flooding back and the effect of our actions on each other gives pause for thought. But you don’t have to learn hard lessons by being boring and Daphne du Maurier has a wicked sense of humour! The little boy Robin is a gem of precocious insight, wondering around Jerusalem with his two maps, one modern and one ancient and is the only person who wishes they were staying for another day.

12 thoughts on “Two Short Stories

  1. I remember these stories well. They are both superb, as is the rest of that collection. I like the fact that both of these stories are linked by holidays. That group of neighbours on a tour of the Holy Land are just so well observed.

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    1. They really are and so completely different to each other. I was surprised at how close to discussing religion and politics she got in The Way of the Cross.

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  2. I’m not much of a short story fan, but I do enjoy du Maurier’s and the stories in her Don’t Look Now collection are particularly strong. Not After Midnight is a great one.

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  3. That second one sounds great. Reminds me of a few scenes from Larry’s Party, where a newlywed couple go on a bus tour for their honeymoon, with several cranky and snobby older couples…

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  4. Apart from Rebecca, I find I don’t get on very well with du Maurier’s novels, but I think she is a real master of the art of the short story! I know I’ve read this collection long ago but my memory of the individual stories is extremely vague now – you’ve made me realise that a reread is long overdue!

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  5. Ohh now I can’t wait for next year! These sounds delicious, although they also look a little longer than the short stories in The Birds collection. I will have to be organised again next year to get them all read in time!

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