Daphne du Maurier’s story “Don’t Look Now,” first published in the collection Not After Midnight (1971), is one of the great pieces of fiction set in Venice. For all its beauty and art and atmosphere, “The City of Water” has served like no other city as a backdrop for sinister tales of mystery and doom. From Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912) through to Ian McEwen’s 1981 novel The Comfort of Strangers, Venice in fiction has especially been a place where visitors come to seek an escape from something unsettling in their ordinary life, only to find that the gorgeous city of canals and alleyways draws them into a situation more disturbing than whatever it was they sought to leave behind.
In “Don’t Look Now,” English couple John and Laura have come to Venice after the death of their young daughter, Christine, from meningitis. They have a son named Johnnie who is in prep school back in England, but it’s clear that he does not mean quite as much to Laura as Christine did. Since their daughter died, Laura has been living in “numb despair,” and as John says: “The girl meant everything. She always did, right from the start, I don’t know why. I suppose it was the difference in age. A boy of school age, and a tough one at that, is someone in his own right. Not a baby of five. Laura literally adored her…”