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The Doll Short StoriesThe Doll Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here is an early showcase of Du Mauriers’ literary prowess and her interest for certain themes that she would develop later into full length novels. In this little medley of tales one can spot a prototype of ‘Manderley’ house as well as recurrences of the blood-red azaleas that have become synonymous with it (the haunted setting of her most acclaimed novel ‘Rebecca’).

Overall, the stories centre on the varying degrees of sexual degeneration and the disintegration of relationships. These are explored from different angles, be it through the eyes of a prostitute or an emotionally disturbed violinist. I got a sense that as a young writer, Du Maurier understood the value of subtlety, as even her most extreme story mostly hinges on the power of suggestion. As in the fashion of the great gothic novels like ‘The Monk’ nothing is openly described but more or less alluded to.

Surprisingly, most of these were written during the authors younger years when I suppose her sexual curiosity was at its’ peak. But even then she approached her material with a maturity far beyond her years. This was raw talent trying to find its ultimate shape and form on some very sharp and often risqué ideas.

One particular story (and I can’t review without mentioning it) stands out as the most shocking. Nearly all her stories probe the dark recesses of the human psyche in one way or another, but this one tale really had me bewildered with its’ brazen pornographic twist. ‘The Doll’ is a story I can only describe as lurid and bold. It is dripping with sexual immorality and during its’ time must have caused quite a stir, as the immorality stems from a woman. The story is accessed through a fragment of letters discovered washed up on the shore. While the author is unknown, the account is legible enough to be understood, which turns out to be a strange confessional of an ex-lover who reveals one woman’s dark secret and her sickening fetish for a life-like, mechanical doll called Julio.

Now forgive me, but I didn’t know they actually HAD sex dolls back in the late 1800’s, especially ones that functioned. There is something very creepy about the thought of a cultured woman, carrying around this portable boyfriend in her trunk. The idea has a faint science-fictiony feel to it as I am reminded of the Japanese animeGhost-in-the-Shell: Innocence’, where the plot revolves around a load of ‘gynoids’ (robotic geishas) that suddenly go homicidal. Nothing like that happens here of course, but throughout the anime deep psychological questions were asked about why the dolls were created, and what they really represented outside their obvious functions. Because of this, I actually found myself attempting to relate with the doll as opposed to the other two characters, which as you can imagine made things more disturbing! Another book I should mention(and have not read yet) is ‘Locus Solus’ by Raymond Roussel, a surrealist take on the absurdities of scientific experimentation and the book which inspired a big part of the anime in question.

But I digress. As I read ’The Doll’, I got the feeling that this was evidence of Du Maurier playing in the sandbox of her ideas. There is an experimental quality to each story, but recurring characters like Maisie the prostitute shows she definitely had something in mind. It is also here that one can see early sketches of her now infamous Rebecca. If you like this book I recommend Raymond Carvers ‘Beginners’ for further reading, which is far sharper and more modern.

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