Number three in my box of Penguin Modern Classics is Daphne Du Maurier’s The Breakthrough.
Now this is a good one – despite the fact the font on the front cover still makes me want to throw them all in the bin (you might get a bit of this raving each time I review one of these). The T and H combination is ridiculous as is the E and A combination.
Anyway, don’t judge a book by it’s cover is what I’m meant to think isn’t it? And what is between the covers is excellent.
I am a big fan of Daphne Du Maurier, having read many of her novels in my teens. I still think the opening line of Rebecca is one of the all-time classic opening lines but my favourite of her novels is The House on the Strand which deals with time travel between the 20th and 14th centuries and is brilliant.
The Breakthrough is a novella in the modern-day (or at least it was when it was written in 1966) science fiction genre.
Electronics engineer Stephen Saunders is despatched by his boss to a research facility on the east coast of England to help an old Cambridge friend of his with some work into sound vibrations and pitch.
He goes under duress and when he gets there, Saunders discovers the experimental research has nothing whatsoever to do with what he was given his research grant for, instead the mad scientist in question James MacLean is using sound to control a young disabled girl and a dog from long distances and also plans to try and capture the soul of a young many dying from leukaemia.
It’s a bit Frankenstein-esque but without the body parts.
It’s a great story, expertly told as you would expect but I think what Du Maurier really excelled at was atmosphere and this book, though it runs to just 58 pages, has it in droves.
The mysterious and lonely research station, the desolate beach, even the cottage inhabited by the young girl and her mother are described with such aplomb that you can feel the atmosphere oozing from the pages as you read it.
There is a very small cast of characters and many aren’t given a chance to develop in such a short narrative but this chilling story is deliciously eerie and very much worth a read.