The Breaking Point and other stories by Daphne Du Maurier
According to the introduction, Daphne Du Maurier was going through a very difficult time in her own life at the time these stories were written and she was teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown. She used her writing to pull herself away from the brink, but all of that tension, stress and depression that she must have been feeling at the time is written between every line of every story in this collection.
They are not easy stories to read. They lack the smoothness of Du Maurier’s earlier works and they are jarring to read. They deal with dark subject matter – motiveless murder, anger, grooming, fear, the loss of innocence and the loss of Eden-like idylls.
The stand out story for me was The Blue Lenses which tells the story of a woman who has corrective eye surgery only to find that she can now see the true nature of people around her as their faces have all been replaced with animal heads which reflect their characters. This story feels the most developed and coherent one in the collection. I am not aware of any film or TV adaptation of this, but I can see it working if it was developed for the small/big screen.
The other stand out stories were The Alibi and The Lordly Ones. The Alibi tells the story of a man who plans a murder as an escape from the drudgery of his routine. This is a claustrophobic story, and his sense of frustration and pent up rage clearly comes through. The Lordly Ones tells the story of a mute boy who is abused and neglected by his parents, and who longs for an escape. While parts of the story do make for uncomfortable reading, this one is classic Du Maurier, with the magical picture of the wild moors conjured up, reflecting the protagonist’s longing for an escape.
Two other stories stand out for me for different reasons. The first is The Pool, which tells the story of a young girl’s path to womanhood. I could not bear the protagonist in this story. I found her unbelievable as a child character and her worship of the pond in the garden was uncomfortable to read. The second is The Archduchess which tells the story of revolution in the Eden-like fictional country of Ronda. Although you do have to sometimes take leaps when reading Du Maurier and put trust her masterful story telling to accept the fantastical, this was just a bit too far for me. Even in her hands, I found the idea of Ronda hard to believe in and the story was not strong enough for me to get past that.
I would not recommend this book for first time readers of Du Maurier. Stick with the classics and once you love them, you can learn to love collections such as this. For devotees like myself, it is an essential read. It is a fascinating insight into her state of mind at the time at which she wrote these stories. Though not her strongest collection, these dark, uncomfortable stories certainly are memorable.