I’ve mentioned the wtfuckery that abounds in Daphne du Maurier’s collection of “lost” short stories, The Doll. I’m only halfway-ish through the book—that’s six stories down—and each one of those stories has a half-baked feel I can’t shake off, and majority simply has me scratching my poor head. That is: None of these is the du Maurier short fiction I’ve come to know. Though her always-to-die-for prose is present, all of the stories—with the [begrudging] exception of the title story—simply feels like du Maurier had an idea, picked up some loose leaf, and ran with it. If I were a snide little gremlin, I’d say something like: Oh, is it a wonder these stories were lost?
A quick rundown of the stories I’ve read thus far:
- We’re welcomed to the collection by “East Wind,” which feels like a not-that-subtle allegory of how colonialism is the worst thing ever: See how our men have forgotten work, they’re off smoking cheroots and raiding the ship for brandy, having a good time with sailors-at-port, whilst their women are willingly bedded by these pale-skinned strangers. And then, of course, the next day, the strangers skedaddle, leaving the islanders cleaning up the mess everyone made in that mini-episode of hysteria. Myeh.
- And then there’s “The Doll”—I mean, if I were hard-pressed to pick one short story I don’t want to tear into bits and pieces, it would be this. It’s a du Maurier almost doing her best: A tale of jealousy and obsession, turned on its ear with a Gothic undertone and lots of macabre-feels you can’t shake off. It deceives you, which I like. It really does seem like some the-madness-of-jealousy thing, but it soon enough turns creeptastic, making me go, “There! That’s the du Maurier I know and love, by Jove! That’s the sick fuck I’ve read!” But—there’s a depth missing to it. It feels like a creep-fast, and stops at that.
- The good feelings fizzled with “And Now to God a Father,” a story about a charismatic vicar who just feels really skeevy for some reason. But du Maurier doesn’t follow through—something that characterizes most of the short stories in the collection. Things got worse with “A Difference in Temperament”—which irritatingly feels like a writing exercise: How do you, quite explicitly, show that two people who love each other have different personalities, which might just doom their relationship?
And then I read other stories but I’d grown increasingly disenchanted. I think there’s one where newlyweds get into one scrape after another on their honeymoon—drive a car to nowhere, car disappears with all their stuff, they pitch a tent, tent falls on their faces, ring disappears, a landlady nearly throws them out for attempting to live in sin. Yadda yadda yadda, it’s all this schmaltzy, ridiculous crock. And then there’s another one about a whore, and that could have worked, but I don’t care.
Sigh. There’s something very dated with these stories—no, not because they were written in them days of yore, ha-ha—but because they have this feel of the no-point short stories anthologized in textbooks, the ones assigned to me in high school? And almost all of them are mildly moralistic, stylistically conventional, and an all-around bore. Augh. I don’t even know if I’m moving forward with this, if I’m going to read the last seven stories. It feels like I’m wasting my time—and if the guilt rears its ugly head, I could always reason that I gave it six chances.