How many of you have seen Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror film The Birds? Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors--he shares that title with Joel Coen. Well, Joel has him slightly beat, but I still adore Hitchcock's work. (Everyone must see The Trouble with Harry, I demand it! Do it now!) But I have never watched The Birds. I am a bad Hitchcock fan. Whatever. After you watch The Trouble With Harry, watch Strangers on a Train, too. It's extra creepy in a weird way. I am getting distracted. Ahem. How many of you know that The Birds is based on a novella by famed British suspense writer Daphne Du Maurier? I did not know that until a couple of weeks ago, which embarrassed me greatly, because I love Du Maurier. She is the author of quite possibly my favorite novel--Rebecca (If you haven't read that, do it now! Mrs. Danvers is the creepiest housekeeper ever! And Rebecca is, well, something to behold ^^)--and I love her other work as well, so I promptly checked out a copy of The Birds and read it. Dame Daphne didn't let me down.
I think the reason this novella is so disturbing is the precise reason that it shouldn't be. I mean, come on, it's a bird invasion! Compared with a zombie or alien invasion that seems quite tame. But Du Maurier, with her genius for making the mundane malevolent, ensures that a mass attack by birds is just as, if not more, spooky than undead flesh eaters. (Let's face it, birds have sharp pointy beaks and talons, and they are somewhat more speedy than zombies.) ^^
Set in rural Cornwell, England--a favorite setting for Du Maurier--The Birds plays very much with the idea that even the most idyllic hamlets are not immune to horror. I am a sucker for books with English settings--especially West County settings--so I enjoyed the British atmosphere, but I also think the rural setting made this more ominous and sinister than an urban setting. Rather than giving us a large group of characters to focus on in an emergency, Du Maurier instead limits her focus to Nat, his wife, and two small children. The result is an intense, claustrophobic tale. This story isn't super scary, but it is quite ominous and there are several scenes that are especially chilling. I enjoy atmospheric type suspense and horror very much, so I appreciated that this book wasn't the text equivalent of a slasher movie.
I also liked that the protagonist Nat is not an annoying idiot. So many horror/suspense tales have a cast of pure knuckleheads who I despise and wish death upon. (Hehe I am usually not disappointed.) Nat is resourceful and astute, and his intelligence is a major reason why I was rooting for him and was sympathetic to him. His wife is a little bit clueless, and consequently is annoying in a harmless sort of way, but she is not the focus of the story, so I was fine with that.
The Birds is an atmospheric suspense tale that is perfect for fans of more psychological horror. With its isolated setting and likable protagonist, this book reminded me very much of M. Night Shyamalan's alien invasion movie Signs, which is another one of my favorites. And, at only 30 some pages, this chilling tale is the perfect way to while away a humid summer afternoon. (Apologies for the somewhat intentional pun.) ^^
Next Week: I have a special treat for all of you! I am pleased to announce that I will be doing an early review of Krista D. Ball's paranormal fantasy novella Harvest Moon. This is a great story that I can't wait to share with all of you! :)
Today in Literary History: June 12th, 1942: On her thirteenth birthday, Dutch Jewish teenager Anne Frank is given a diary. She took the diary with her one month later when her family went into hiding from the Nazis, and she wrote in it regularly during her two years in seclusion. This diary--which went on to become an international bestseller as The Diary of a Young Girl--is one of my favorite books. I highly recommend it.