Book Review: Don’t Look Now

Daphne du Maurier is fast-becoming one of my favourite authors and it’s surprising to note that I have only ever read her novels when I have been required to do so by a book club, but I have never been disappointed. Indeed, my local book club affectionately refers to her as ‘Daffers’.

But this review is about one of her most famous short stories, Don’t Look Now, a sinister, twisty tale set in the murky canals of Venice. Having only been familiar with the film of the same name, starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, I had no idea it was based on a short story, nor that it had been written by Daphne du Maurier.

I think what I like about Du Maurier is that her books have such a sense of the time they were written in. This story forms part of a short collection of stories, and there are eye-watering references to women and different cultures that make me wince today, but I never get a sense that these are views shared by Du Maurier, rather that she reflected society’s norms in that snapshot of time. In fact, I find her quite an exemplar of feminism, which you may find odd given that she seems to have a reputation for writing romance. There IS romance, but always with a darkness tangled through it.

This tale is unsettling, starting as it does with a couple taking a holiday in Venice to help them cope with their grief at losing their child. They encounter a mysterious duo, two sisters, one of whom claims to have second sight, and the husband is haunted by repeated glimpses of a small child, dressed in a red cloak. If you have seen the film, you will know how creepy this becomes, but I won’t spoil the ending (which is different from the film!).

I think it’s set in the late 60s or early 70s, and it is definitely of it’s time, but there is, as with all of her novels, a sense of falling into that time and getting caught up in the story, so any anomalies with modern attitudes just seem to get absorbed but do not interrupt the pace of the story.

Venice is depicted as a place of mystery, intrigue and secrets, and the narrow canals and dark, twisting alleyways only add to the sense of growing menace. The story itself, as well as the collection, is very short, but she packs an awful lot of darkness into a few pages, the mark of an excellent storyteller.

Available from the West Suffolk NHS Trust Library and Information Centre