Saturday, September 19, 2009
Don't Look Now
Posted by JaneGS
I followed up The Turn of the Screw with Daphne du Maurier's classic short story, Don't Look Now. Unlike Turn of the Screw, which left me irritated and puzzled, Don't Look Now delivered a satisfying thriller that kept me on the edge even though I had read the story years ago and sort of remembered how it worked.
I always thought the title was simply derived from the game that John and Laura play in the opening scene. It is, of course, but it also is a clue to how this story, and perhaps all good thrillers, work. I'm not a magician, but my understanding of the magician's art is to distract the audience so they don't pick up on how the trick works. For the split second in which the audience is looking at the distraction, the "magic" happens.
So too with this short story. Du Maurier puts forth a series of distractions to keep us from anticipating where the danger will come from. First she makes us think that Laura is the one in danger because of her grief, then the little girl that John and Laura see after dinner in Venice, then their son Johnnie, then Laura again when John sees her on the vaporetto with the twins. It's only on the last page of the book that we realize that John is the one in danger. Granted, the psychic twin did tell Laura that John was in danger if they stayed in Venice, but since John doesn't believe her, we don't either.
Mysteries, and especially psychological ones, depend on the reader not looking at the right things at the right time. The best stories are those in which all the clues are there in plain sight, but you doesn't see them because you are looking at something else. You are being purposely distracted. Just like seeing a good magic show can leave you exhilarated and impressed, a good mystery should do the same.
Don't Look Now was a joy to read. Du Maurier is truly the grande dame of the psychological thriller.