Cautioned by the three reviews already on amazon.com on 06/12/2013 (each about "The Birds" and about none of the other stories in this 1952 collection of six stories by Daphne Du Maurier), I want to make it clear that I am writing about the Arrow pocket book edition of 1952. Not about an audio tape or just about the "novelette," "The Birds."
THE BIRDS AND OTHER STORIES is one of the best five or six collections of shorter literary works that I have read and I am nearly 78. There is something in the six stories for some reader somewhere: mystery, terror, religion, narrators without names and in "The Old Man" perhaps the most unexpected but fair surprise ending in English literature.
Here are sketches of the six yarns:
(1) Best known if not for itself then for its 1963 film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock is "The Birds." Mysterious, increasingly well coordinated attacks in early December by normally peaceable birds like seagulls on humans begins on the coast of Cornwall in England. These murderous attacks are seen in the narrative entirely from the perspective of one besieged rural English family. From the wireless they soon learn that the same attacks are occurring across the British Isles. The family hears the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force attack the invaders, then retreat. In a few days the wireless fall silent. The family cannot pick up any Continental radio broadcasts. It settles down to outlast the besieging birds.
(2) The most memorable story of the six stories is surely "Monte Verita" (The Mountain of Truth). It brilliantly suggests the coming (1957) Du Maurier novel THE SCAPEGOAT.
Friends since boyhood and university years at Cambridge, Victor and the unnamed narrator of this tale both become avid amateur mountain climbers. Victor marries Welsh beauty Anna, and the narrator is best man. The latter promptly falls in love with Anna for life, as he recounts for us readers decades of events when nearly 70 years old.
Both men are swept into eerie, terrifying religious mystery. Victor takes austere, spare-living Anna on her first mountain climb somewhere in Southern Europe. Anna without notifying her husband deliberately climbs Monte Verita alone and enters an ancient, never visited almost inaccessible mountain monastery. By 1938 when, almost by accident, the narrator discovers a dying Victor and carries a final message up the peak to Anna, she has become the community's abbess. She is also the hooded high priestess of men and women who worship the moon and the sun, who believe that Monte Verita is paradise where they will never grow old -- and more. Lowlanders hate the ancient monastery and are bent on destroying it. The ancient connection between mountains and worship is explored. Over the decades Victor made an annual trek to the barred, silent fortress monastery and exchanged notes with Anna, whom he was not permitted to see. He used the time to trace the history of worship of sun and moon, its universal connection with mountains and perhaps to European Druidism.
(3) In "The Apple Tree" a deservedly underappreciated wife dies and returns to life three months later as a hitherto barren apple tree in her former garden, apparently to torment the husband who ceased loving her years before. He can chop down the apple tree and try but fail to burn its wood. But the hewn stump that remains has the potential to become a deadly trap.
(4) In "The Little Photographer" somewhere on the Mediterranean coast, a beautiful, self-fancying marquise is on vacation with children and nanny but without her busy husband. Vastly bored, she opts for "passion between strangers" (p. 163) and seduces Monsieur Paul, a simple, crippled native photographer who is the sole support of his sister. Madame la Marquise regards the mousy man as a mere pastime to be discarded at any time. But he falls madly in love with the gorgeous older woman and vows to follow her to the City and be her slave. No way! She pushes annoying M. Paul off a cliff to his death, But before that during her naps on the cliff, M. Paul had taken photographs of the marquise. When the dead man's sister discovers the photos, blackmail begins.
(5) In "Kiss Me Again, Stranger," a recently demobilized soldier in London, now a garage mechanic, falls madly in love with a woman who might well be a vampire. In any event he forces himself on her attention and woos her in a graveyard. Had the British soldier ever once been any form of airman, she would have torn out his throat. Why? Because unnamed German aviators had destroyed her flat and her parents in a bombing raid. She therefore murdered three British airman in or near cemeteries over just three weeks.
(6) The collection ends with by far the shortest tale (11 pages), "The Old Man." In one of the author's famed surprise endings the old man in question, after struggling for food and interacting with his mate and growing children, leaves the neighborhood where he has been staying for some years. The unnamed narrator says "... suddenly I saw the old man stretch his neck and beat his wings, and he took off from the water, full of power, and she followed him. I watched the two swans fly out to sea right into the face of the setting sun ... alone, in winter." Up to that passage I had no reason to doubt that the old man was thoroughly human. Yet a re-reading shows that Du Maurier has been more than fair in her clues that what sounds like people are really swans, not "The Birds," but nonetheless birds.
Bottom line: Daphne Du Maurier, most known for her 1938 gothic novel REBECCA, singlehandedly in the 20th Century returned to literary eminence virtually expired English gothic writing for the first time since the days of Mary Shelley, Sir Walter Scott and Edgar Allan Poe. The skills shown in REBECCA 14 years earlier burn as brightly in this 1952 collection THE BIRDS AND OTHER STORIES. A truly grand read.