The Doll by Daphne du Maurier

The Doll is a newly published collection of ‘lost’ Daphne du Maurier short stories, most of them from her early career. They are just what you would expect of her; well written, interesting and with an overwhelmingly ominous atmosphere. These are not pleasant tales; they depict many of the worst traits of humankind and some awfully toxic relationships; no one gets a happy ending when their story is written by Du Maurier’s pen, after all. Some are more successful than others; there were a couple that I thought weren’t particularly polished and didn’t really have enough to them to make them a well rounded short story, but there were one or two particularly striking tales that more than made up for the deficiencies of the less accomplished ones.

I’ll tell you about two of my favourites. Week-End is an excellent portrayal of a relationship’s rapid deconstruction over the course of a weekend mini break in the country. On the way down, the couple can barely speak to each other, so excited are they at the prospect of a whole two days together. They are madly in love, refer to one another as ‘darling’ incessantly, and are blind to one another’s faults. The first day of the weekend, everything is blissful; pet names are used, nothing is too much to do for the other, and the unattractive sunburn and freckles that develop on each other’s faces and bodies are barely noticed by the doting pair. However, an ill-advised boat trip that finds the couple stranded on a beach in the cold soon throws water over the flames of their ardour. The way Du Maurier so perfectly demonstrates the fickleness of emotions and how quickly love can turn to hate is wonderful; in just a few pages she utterly destroys a relationship, and the most disturbing aspect of her tale is how reasonable the characters’ behaviour is made to seem.

The second story I particularly enjoyed was the last in the volume, The Limpet. Narrated in the first person by a delusional woman who believes herself the sweetest and most generous in the world, and cannot understand why she has been left alone, it tells the story of her life and her relationships. Beginning with her meddling in her parent’s plans for a new future when she was merely a schoolgirl, her narrative goes on to describe how she has spent her entire life destroying other people’s happiness to suit her own ends, as she selfishly uses people’s vulnerabilities to persuade them into behaving as she would like them to. Of course, the narrator cannot see how her behaviour has caused people to turn away from her, and views herself as an ill-used victim of injustice, who has only ever tried to help others. As the story went on and the clues to her manipulative nature became ever clearer, it was increasingly disturbing to see how delusional she was, and how badly her machinations had devastated the lives of her victims.

Personally I prefer Du Maurier in longer doses but these stories really are very good, and certainly merit a read. Perhaps you could pick them up for Simon and Polly’s Discovering Daphne reading event next month?

Also, don’t forget my Persuasion read a long starts this Sunday (along with Downton Abbey)! If you’d like to take part, you better get reading!

13 comments

  1. Rachel, glad you liked it. I have to say it’s not the best of her short story collections, I’d say The Breaking Point (for the creepy Blue Lenses or ominous Apple Tree, which doesn’t sound as ominous as it is) or The Birds and Other Stories (for its title story alone) are my favourites so far.

    I love the story behind this collection and a Daphers fan finding these forgotten gems is a story in itself.

    Hope you’ll be picking up something longer for Discovering Daphne a mere two weeks away! Eek.

    1. Thanks, Simon! I have enjoyed some of her other short stories and need to dabble more. I’ve never read The birds and I’d love to!

      Yes – I have one ready and waiting!!

  2. I’m sad to say that the only Du Maurier I’ve managed to get around to reading is Rebecca, but I’m happy to say that I won a copy of this from LibraryThing, so I will finally read something else. (I think it’s technically not releasing in the US until December.) I’m glad to hear you liked it!

    1. Rebecca is magnificent! I love it. I must reread it…I don’t know what happened to my copy though. I won mine from Librarything too..forgot to mention that. I didn’t realise it wasn’t published in the US yet. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  3. The Weekend sounds vaguely familiar, reminding me of an Audrey Hepburn movie with a similar theme whose name I can’t remember. At any rate, Rachel, your review, which is, as always, quite thorough and well written. It reminds me of how exciting (and often creepy) it can be to read Daphne du Maurier.

    1. The Hepburn film may be Two For The Road, although the movie starts with a disintegrating marriage with flashbacks to the couple’s meeting and happier years.

  4. I agree with Simon that she has some really excellent story collections–I’ve been trying to make my way through all of her short stories (and she is not a happy ending sort of writer–you are so right!). I requested an OOP collection through ILL earlier this year which had all early stories by her and then discovered that a number of them were republished in this new collection (so am happy to have it). Some are not very strong, but I was surprised at how good others were. The collection also had The Weekend, which I also thought well done. She’s a master of irony, I think. I’m looking forward to reading this sometime soon!

    1. Yes I think all short story collections, no matter how good the writer, have one or two duds in them. I’ve read a few other stories of hers and enjoyed them but overall I think novels are her strength. I think you’d enjoy these – it comes out in December so you’ve a little while to wait unfortunately, but I hope you can get hold of it then.

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