Daphne du Maurier Week- The Birds by Daphne du Maurier versus The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock – A Post a Day in May

Today begins Heavenali’s Daphne du Maurier week. I knew I wanted to participate but wasn’t sure how to fit it into my A Post a Day in May project. But then I had an idea that appealed to me a lot. Why not reread one of her most famous stories, The Birds, and compare it to the Hitchcock movie. And that’s what I did a couple of days ago.

April and May have been very hot here in Switzerland, sunny and with temperatures around 27°C. Not so two days ago when I finally reread and rewatched The Birds. That day was cool and rainy. Perfect weather for this creepy tale.

The short story The Birds is set in the country, near the sea. Nat is a farmhand. On the day the story begins, he notices the birds’ unusual behaviour. It is the beginning of December and the weather has changed abruptly overnight. From a mellow autumn, it is has turned into an icy winter. Could this have something to do with the birds? Is this why they flock together and thousands of seagulls cover the sea like a giant wave? And then they start to attack. Nat and his family have to barricade themselves in their house as the birds get more and more aggressive, trying to enter the house through the windows, the chimney.

I enjoyed this story so much. It’s rich in descriptive details and atmosphere. Creepy, eerie, like a good ghost story, even though that’s not what this is.

One element resonated with me a lot. While they are locked into their house, Nat and his family try to find out what’s going on, whether the government will send help, what they say is happening, and what they should do. A bit like now, and Nat and his wife get very annoyed when they realize the government is clueless. Just like now, they are absolutely no help and offer no guidance in a massive crisis.

After finishing the short story, I then watched the movie. I know I watched it many years ago and must say, the movie I rewatched had absolutely nothing to do with what I remembered of it.

Unlike the story, the movie is set in a small town. I didn’t remember how much story Hitchcock added to du Maurier’s story. Hers is very pared down and atmospheric. But Hitchcock’s film starts like a screw ball comedy. A young rich woman meets a lawyer in a bird shop in San Francisco. She then decides to bring him the love birds he wanted for his sister to his house on Bodega Bay, outside of San Francisco. Like in any screw ball comedy, they try to pretend they are mutually not interested. They tease each other and what follows is a humorous back and forth. But then a seagull attacks the woman and the story changes.

I must say, I was disappointed in the movie. It lacked atmosphere, almost felt like two films in one. Of course, for its time it’s a great movie but I liked the short story so much better, found it so much more effective. Not for one second did I find the movie eerie. If I had watched this a few weeks after reading the story or without even rereading the story, my reaction would have been different, I’m sure. It’s obvious that Hitchcock only used the story as an inspiration. I read once that he always started with an image and this is possibly the case here too. He was fascinated by the idea of all those birds gathering. And for its time, those attack scenes are well done. That he added a love story and complex characters, is an interesting choice. I like that he chose to go deeper, introduce us to complex characters with backstory, but I’m not sure why he chose to start with some type of screw ball comedy. Maybe he hoped the contrast would intensify the horror that follows? I am probably not doing it justice. Someone who doesn’t know the story, might find the movie terrifying.

It was certainly an interesting experience to compare the two and made me realize that I want to read more of her, and definitely rewatch many of his movies and discover those I don’t know yet. Luckily, I have two Hitchcock collections here. Over twenty movies in total. And I also own Truffaut’s book on Hitchcock, which I should finally read.

Which is your favourite du Maurier book? And which is your favourite Hitchcock movie?

Daphne du Maurier: The House on The Strand (1965)

The House on the Strand

Echoing the great fantastic stories of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, The House on the Strand is a masterful yarn of history, romance, horror, and suspense that will grip the reader until the last surprising twist.

What a mysterious and hypnotic read. I really enjoyed it and was surprised that it was much more complex than I had assumed at first. Complex and also dark. The House on the Strand is a time-travel story, something that isn’t very typical for Daphne du Maurier and also a genre that I don’t like normally. If the part in our time hadn’t been so compelling I wouldn’t have liked it that much, I’m sure.

Richard Young has come to a point in his life in which nothing is certain anymore. He is married to a young dynamic American woman , Vita, who has two little boys from a first marriage. She would like him to move from England to the States and start working for her brother. Although Dick has resigned from his old post with a renowned editor, he can’t make up his mind or rather, he doesn’t want to move to the States. Very clearly he has to decide whether this intercontinental marriage does still make sense or not.

The summer holidays have started and Magnus, Dick’s childhood friend, has lent him his old family home in Cornwall. The only thing he’d like Dick to do in exchange, is to try a drug that he has developed which will transport the user back to the 14th century. Dick has almost a week to try out the drug until Vita and the boys will arrive from the States and join him for their summer holiday.

Right after his first trip to 14th century Cornwall, Dick is hooked. He is fascinated by what he sees, a complex story of interwoven families, betrayal, adultery and crime that is displayed before his very eyes with so much intensity and brightness that it seems more appealing than his real life.

Soon after the first trip he goes on the next one. Being “over there” doesn’t pose a problem but coming back has occasionally side effects like nausea and confusion. Additionally he never knows where he will return. It could be quite dangerous as there are roads and railway lines which didn’t exist in the 14th century England. The way du Maurier wrote these transitions has quite an effect on the reader as well. She blends the changing so well that I had almost the feeling I took part.

What is peculiar is the fact that both Magnus, who also went on trips, and Dick see everything that happens through the eyes of a man named Roger, a servant. On his first trip Dick sees Isolda a woman who moves him like Vita never could.

Things start to go wrong after the first two trips. Vita arrives far too early and interferes with Dick’s wish of going on further trips. He will have to sneak out and try the drug behind their backs. The whole dynamic of their relationship is interesting. They have very different expectations. All Dick wants is to be left alone and go on trips, all she wants is to be with him and plan their future.

The House on the Strand is as much the portrait of an addiction as the story of a marriage going wrong. At the heart of it is a man who doesn’t know what he wants in his life and what direction it should take. He must learn to face the consequences of the decisions he has taken in the past. We wonder why he got married to Vita in the first place, they seem so ill-assorted.

What makes this an uncanny read is the fact that Dick can’t fight his addiction and that the drug has side effects about which Magnus didn’t inform him. Both Magnus and Dick pay for their experiments with the drug. In very different ways. The ending is pure horror.

I have read quite a few books by Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, Jamaica Inn and her short story collection Don’t Look Now. While The House on the Strand isn’t the best, it is very good and so special that I can really recommend it. It’s uncanny and realistic at the same time and very engrossing.

The House on the Strand is my first contribution to  Carl’s R.I.P. VI. Here’s the link to other reviews.