Paranormal Daphne du Maurier

The men use science to look at things

Random watch of the week: The Breakhrough (1975) — I believe a rec strewn in my path from Stones perhaps. I nearly scrolled past when I saw Daphne Du Maurier’s name and thought oh, give a go. And Simon Ward (who led me down a side quest for the 1970 television series based on Dumas’ The Black Tulip which I am now desperate to find so if you have any leads…).

The concept of this novella is a mash-up of tech and the supernatural. Ward’s Stephen, an electronics engineer, is sent off to do some work at a remote lab in Suffolk. He’s a little shocked at how remote. Alas the brief glimpse of some gothic ruins is all we get before we’re taken to the top of the line electronics lab/computer sort of thingee. I was hoping it actually had more to do with sound but it’s a bit fuzzy on how the electronics becomes digitised and exactly how the process works but du Maurier’s not really interested in that. What this is about is preserving life after death — or at least the soul.

Stephen is a replacement for a previous engineer who, being Catholic, as lab head Mac (Brewster Mason) explains, had objections. Stephen’s objection at first is that it’s nonsense and is ready to pack up and go, but he gets convinced partly by clear-sighted doctor Robbie (the always delightful Clive Swift) who makes it all sound quite reasonable and by Ken who’s hanging around to die of leukemia so they can capture his soul and he can live on.

In addition to the men there’s the intellectually disable girl Niki who’s the linkage somehow (maybe it’s clearer in the novella). So cringe: du Maurier is not alone in using the disability superpower trope but it doesn’t make it any less tiresome.

The pace is lugubrious and there are moments where it starts to get interesting but almost inevitably veers away from the very thing that is interesting. But damning with faint praise may be enough to interest some of you.

If that doesn’t really float your boat, I watched a 2016 Du Maurier doco on the ‘tube this morning after the storms awoke me before dawn and it was quite good.