Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Birds and Other Stories Review by Elizabeth L.

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier
Rating: ★★★★

On December the 3rd life changed forever for Nat Hocken and his family. The day before was like any other, he worked at the farm and ate his lunch on the cliffs overlooking the channel. But the birds seemed agitated. That night, the wind came in from the East and turned fall into winter in Cornwall. While he slept soundly next to his wife, he heard a tapping on the glass. Upon opening the window a bird attacked him and flew off. This happened once more, though his wife insisted in her groggy state that it was a dream. But once the children were attacked in the next room his wife became scared as well. Nat spent the night fight the birds off to find fifty little corpses on the floor by morning. After walking his daughter Jill to the school bus stop he decided to stop in at the farm to see if this was a unique occurrence to his family. They had heard nothing, but on his way back to his family, the home service announced that birds were massing all over the country. Nat went home and prepared his house for the coming attack which he could feel coming deep in his bones. They survived the first night, those at the farm weren't so lucky. But how long can they survive with their supplies ever dwindling and the birds become ever more fierce?

While, you can read a lot into this story, such as the east wind being the Communist threat that could arrive at any moment, this was written during the height of the Cold War after all, I found it very interesting in it's post apocalyptic setting. With the small family trying to withstand an unknown force on limited rations in a desolate landscape, this is just like all good horror films, in particular zombie films. Also the scope is what I find interesting. Knowing the story only because of the Alfred Hitchcock movie I assumed the book would be a small coastal town in Cornwall under siege. While this does deal with the horror on an intimate scale with the Hocken family, it is stated that this is obviously a country wide, and perhaps a world wide problem. While no explanation is given for anything, it's the fatalism that leads Nat to smoke his last cigarette that gives it such a bleak, if ambiguous ending. Also anytime something as mundane yet as omnipresent as birds changes to a treat, it speaks to the fears we all possess. Could we die because of something we took for granted as being peaceful turning against us? Could the known become unknown? You can see why this still appeals to readers today, fear of the unknown, and attack by the previously known will always be a real threat, be it zombies or birds.

I always face such a conundrum as to how to review collections of short stories. A summary is so close to a spoiler. Like comics and picture books, how does one critique something that has a more transient nature. If I were to go into any detail on the final story, The Old Man, then the big twist at the end would probably come out. See I already said there was a twist! Now you'll just be waiting for it. Also the stories are so unalike, there is no way to categorize or group them, other than of a dark a forbidding nature. From the snowy peaks of Monte Verita where two men wait for their lost love, cloistered in an eternally beautiful society, to the cuckolded husband who, when free of his wife, starts obsessing about an apple tree that bears more than a passing resemblance to his now dead wife. Then there's to the coast of France where in imprudent liaison leads to drastic results. But my favorite is Kiss Me Again, Stranger. Wherein a young man becomes fascinated by a girl he meets at the theater. But again, spoilers. Now while the stories are unlike, there is the binding theme of the darkness of mankind. We read of these apparently normal people who develop these obsessions that lead to deadly consequences. In Du Maurier's world, a casual glance can lead to a tumble under a car. While I would never wish to live in her world, it makes for some damn compelling stories the leave you awake into the wee hours of the night.

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