Aren’t they pretty??? 🙂

The lure of my lovely Penguin Moderns is proving too hard to resist, despite all the big books on the pile demanding my attention! The next two in the series are by some big hitters among female authors, Daphne du Maurier and Dorothy Parker. Both of these are writers I’ve read and loved before, but it’s a long time since I read either, so this is a timely revisit! I love the fact this set is prompting me to go to places I wouldn’t normally at the moment!

Penguin Modern 3 – The Breakthrough by Daphne du Maurier

Although I’ve read du Maurier, most of it was a long time ago and to be honest I couldn’t be sure exactly which books they were. I’m pretty sure I read Rebecca, and I know I read The House on the Strand as a teenager because I was very struck with it. This little volume features one work, the story of the title, and a powerful piece it is indeed.

The book is narrated by Steve, an engineer, who’s sent off to the wilds of the east cost to a strange, deserted kind of research complex where some rather odd experiments are taking place. Headed by the obsessed Mac, the small group is ostensibly undertaking experiments with sound frequencies, and having managed to train the appropriately named camp dog Cerberus to respond to these. However, more worryingly, they’ve also tapped into the frequency of a local small girl, who has what we would now call learning difficulties. The survivor of a pair of twins, she’s become crucial to the underlying, hidden research going on at the base, which is to try to find out what happens to the essence of a human when they die. The results are unexpected…

This was a dark and somewhat unsettling story, focusing very much on science, what it can do, what perhaps it shouldn’t do, the link between twins, life after death and a lot more. du Maurier keeps the tension ramped up and the atmosphere unsettling, and I ended the story a bit rattled really! Which is probably what she intended…. I’ve never read any of her shorter works before but I must admit I’m keen to now.

Penguin Modern 4 – The Custard Heart by Dorothy Parker

I’m on slightly more familiar territory with this one, as I have had a copy of The Collected Dorothy Parker since my teens. Her poem Résumé was always popular amongst my group of angst-ridden BFFs but we always appreciated her wit too. PM4 features three short works – the title story, Big Blonde and You Were Perfectly Fine. The Custard Heart is the story of a selfish and self-centred society woman, Mrs. Lanier; totally vacant and obsessed with her wistful appearance, her heart is indeed as soft and brainless as a bowl of custard, and while real life goes on around her she wafts around in a world of unreality. Never has Parker’s satirical scalpel been so sharp!!

Big Blonde, the longest story in the book, tells of Hazel; something of a good time girl and known as a Good Sport, she in fact suffers from an excess of emotion. Her constant friendships with men and her brief marriage leave her with a void in her life; and even her attempt to leave it meet with no success.

You Were Perfectly Fine is short and brilliant; a young man, recovering from a night of heavy drinking and high jinks, finds that he may have said things to his companion that he might regret in the long term…

Three wonderful, witty, pithy and clever pieces of writing from Dorothy Parker; I can see why I’ve always loved her work and I can see that I’m going to have to re-read more of her soon. There’s a depth here that you might not expect, but then satire often has a serious purpose. The stories are described as being of women on the edge, which maybe doesn’t do them justice; the women in the stories are coping with a man’s world and an imperfect world in the ways they know best, and it’s fascinating to watch.

*****

So – the second two Penguin Moderns have been as good as the first two. Although both of these writers are female, the books couldn’t be more different; but both are just brilliant in what they do and say. I can’t wait to read more of this set! 🙂

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