Now some of you may know that I have a real love for the book ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier, in fact I think it would have to be one of my books of all time. So every time I read a new Du Maurier book it not only has a lot to live up to but I also get that slightly nervous feeling that the next one I read will taint how wonderful I think she is as a writer. Jamaica Inn and The Rendezvous & Other Stories have both been wonderful reads and carried on my fondness for her writing (which is always quite dark) and I have to say The Parasites is another wonderful book. I have read this along with Novel Insights (who is away travelling the world) as part of our (now transatlantic) Rogue Book Group and it’s a really different brilliant read.
The Parasites is a tale of three siblings Maria, Niall and Celia who are actually ‘the parasites’ of the title. “When people play the game: Name three or four persons whom you would choose to have with you on a desert island - they never choose the Delaney’s. They don't even choose us one by one as individuals. We have earned, not always fairly we consider, the reputation of being difficult guests...” Not full blooded (I hate that expression) siblings they are joined by their mother and father – Celia is the only child of both parents – who are well know in the theatre world. Instantly you want to know why these three are so infamous and what sort of characters they must be and slowly but surely Du Maurier draws you into their world.
The book is actually narrated by all three of the siblings, sometimes individually and sometimes as a collective which makes the style of the book even more interesting. Maria has become a well known actress, Niall a composer of songs and Celia has artistic talents stifled by caring for their father. Through different events in their pasts and looking at their current situations you are left in no question of their true characters. Celia is a definite ‘spinster’, Niall is a lazy floating composer with no real attachments to anyone bar a slightly obsessive incestuous love for half sister Maria who herself is more the characters she plays than ever actually herself. In fact sometimes you wonder if Maria actually knows who she is, let alone anyone else knowing.
The backdrop of the novel is the theatre world and upper classes of London and Paris in the times leading up to and during the second world war which adds to the fascinating novel. For me though as ever it’s the darkness that Du Maurier finds in people and their surroundings, her observations of people and their motives and how circumstance and background can create peoples characteristics. Mainly in this novel they are quite dark and calculating. What particularly shines out in this novel is Du Maurier’s dark wit, I admit I let out a few cackles of glee reading this with some of the situations, put downs and words the characters have in the book.
People say that Rebecca was always inspired by and gave a nod to Jane Eyre, and this novel seems to share some parallels with Wuthering Heights. Niall and Maria could easily have been Heathcliffe and Cathy especially with their dislikeable ways and even their relationships mirror some of that novel as do their tragedies in some ways. I personally didn’t like Wuthering Heights I cannot say the same for this novel.
This is a lesser known of Du Maurier’s works and I can’t see why as here I think observationally and definitely in terms of her dark sense of humour she is on flying form. I thought this might be quite a cynical sparse novel and in many ways it is yet I found myself on quite an emotional journey at the end and indeed the whole way through with Celia and her story. If you are a Du Maurier fan already you will love this book, the writing is just superb. If you haven’t tried Du Maurier yet then this only adds to the reasons that you should be picking up her works as soon as you can.