For most people the phrase ‘don’t look now’ evokes a Nicolas Roeg movie. The story that inspired the cinematic masterpiece is very different in terms of detail, tone and structure, but packs a similar emotional punch and offers its own set of puzzles, ambiguities and weird set pieces. A carefully crafted tale of self-deception, misperception, sex and mystery, it’s also a compelling portrait of overwhelming loss and a relationship under pressure. The central characters, John and Laura, are adroitly realised: it’s easy to sympathise with Laura’s desperation and John’s impatience, as well as their shared grief, wit and sarcasm. The other key character is the city in which the story is set – Venice. The city’s canals, bridges and cramped, labyrinthine streets are key to the way events are foreshadowed and tension is ratcheted. The story couldn’t possibly be set in any other city. Du Maurier’s ability to create fear and wonder from conventional interactions in familiar places is key to this story’s well-deserved reputation as a classic of the modern gothic.
First collected in Not after Midnight, Victor Gollancz, 1971. Currently available as the title story in collections from Penguin Modern Classics and Pocket Classics, Virago Modern Classics and NYRB Classics