I've always loved Daphne du Maurier's short stories and have read quite a lot of them. She is very good at the form and especially talented at telling stories that are suspenseful or unnerving. Some of my favorite short stories are by her and if they've not been filmed they are certainly quite cinematic in their telling, if you know what I mean. I have a collection of stories, which I have dipped into before, that is a collection of 'ghost stories' presented by Virago Press and the Asham Award (now defunct?) called Something Was There . . . , edited by Kate Pullinger. The collection contains sixteen stories by writers who submitted their work and were chosen for inclusion--fifteen by contemporary authors and one story that had been recently discovered by Daphne du Maurier called "The Happy Valley".
This is a most delicious story of dreamlike quality, a story of déja vu that is quite unsettling. Can you dream your future, or are you pulling things only from the past, and what happens when the dream becomes, or takes on a reality?
"When she first used to see the valley it was in dreams, little odd snatches remembered on waking, and then becoming easily dimmed and lost in the turmoil of the day."
The dream is of a house in a valley with a stream running by. Each time the unnamed narrator would dream of it she would feel a sense of peace and familiarity. She could sense herself walking about it and know it was part of her life, but most importantly it gave her a sense of safety. When she would wake from this dream it would fade from memory and she could never recall exactly how it would unfold or if it followed a particular sequence.
Curiously she had suffered from an illness that caused her to be ever more absent-minded, and her aunt would tell her it was like living with a ghost, like someone who was not there. But then she knew she did not belong there, that she was waiting for something to start.
" . . . she was waiting for something that would bring her security and peace like the sunken tangled path in her dream, and the house, and the happy valley."
Something does happen--she is, as her aunt tells her--in a moony sort of mood--and walks straight into a car, which knocks her to the ground. When the man driving comes to her aid she feels like she knows him, there is a sense of familiarity about him. She is white with shock, from seeing his face. Some fragment of memory, so fleeting, is instantly gone like the dream she has which departs at daybreak. But there is something about this moment, it has started something, the cycle has begun.
And when they have married he teases her about how the morning after they met he called her and roused her from sleep. On their honeymoon he takes her to the shire where he grew up, a shire she remembers being colored yellow in her atlas at school. One morning while he attends to filling up the gas tank and looking after the car, she takes a stroll in the countryside. There she follows a road to the bend in the river and down to the beach, but the scene seems to change and become silent as if due to her presence. The path dips and she begins to climb downwards into a valley, where she sees a house. She walks up to it and looks in the window, and sees the most unusual of scenes . . .
Déja vu. Has it happened? Or maybe something is going to happen? A waking dream that feels so real? Her husband finds her wandering along the beach wondering if she fell again, or is hurt since she seems to just be mooning about again. But the dream has left her. "The memory of what had been gone from her." Maybe some memories are best left forgotten?
I've pulled out my copy of Louisa May Alcott's A Marble Woman, which contains some of her "unknown thrillers". I'm hoping for another good ghost (or otherwise) story for next weekend. Hmm. Maybe I will only read stories by women for this RIP.