Thursday, 3 May 2012

Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier

Death in Venice again. Daphne du Maurier’s haunting novella was famously turned into a film with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christy but the source material is well worth checking out as well.

British couple Laura and John are on holiday in Venice, a hastily arranged break that takes place after the death of their daughter. Laura is withdrawn and consumed by grief, John unable to reach her. At lunch at the end of their stay, they notice two old ladies watching them, one of whom claims she is psychic and that she can see their little girl’s spirit sitting between them...

John reckons it’s all bunkum, but the change in his wife is instantaneous and her misery lifts. Unwilling to break the spell, John goes along with her, up to a point. He also decides that they ought to go out and enjoy themselves. He suggests a restaurant and pooh-poohs the idea of eating in the hotel:

“God, no!” he exclaimed. “With all those rather dreary couples at the other tables? I’m ravenous. I’m also gay. I want to get rather sloshed.”

They find a restaurant in a part of Venice they don’t know, reached by a tortuous route. When they get to their table, the first thing he does is order a drink:

“Two very large camparis, with soda,” John said. “Then we’ll study the menu.”

Over Laura’s shoulder he sees the two old ladies again. Convinced that they’re being followed, he tries to distract her, but she sees them and goes for another long confab about the astral plane. For John, the evening is ruined:

“All right,” thought John savagely, “Then I will get sloshed,” and he proceeded to down his campari and soda and order another, while he pointed out something quite unintelligible on the menu as his own choice, but remembered scampi for Laura. “And a bottle of Soave,” he added, “With ice.” The evening was ruined anyway, what was to have been an intimate, happy celebration would now be heavy-laden with spiritualistic visions, poor little dead Christine sharing the table with them, which was so damned stupid when in earthly life she would have been tucked up hours ago in bed. The bitter taste of the campari suited his mood of sullen self-pity, and all the while he watched the group at the table in the opposite corner, Laura apparently listening while the more active sister held forth and the blind one sat silent, her formidable sightless eyes turned in his direction... He began on his second campari and soda. The two drinks, taken on an empty stomach, had an instant effect. Vision became blurred. And still Laura went on sitting at the other table, putting in a question now and again, while the active sister talked. The waiter appeared with the scampi, and a companion beside him to server John’s own order, which was totally unrecognisable, heaped with a livid sauce. “The signora does not come?” enquired the first waiter, and John shook his head grimly, pointing an unsteady finger across the room. “Tell the signora,” he said carefully, “Her scampi will get cold.”

Cold scampi is the least of their problems. The psychic sisters warn John that they must leave Venice as his life is in danger. Advice that he fatally chooses to ignore...

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