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The Parasites by Daphne du Maurier

The Parasites (1949)

by Daphne du Maurier

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
This was a thoroughly satisfying read for me. In ways it reminds me of Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love, a book that I did not like, but somehow I care more about du Maurier's Parasites than I do any of Mitford's characters.

Plot points are revealed quietly rather than lit with spotlights, to the point that there was one major relationship that I missed for a good chunk of the novel. I love this way of telling a story. The characters were annoying, selfish little people, but they were also so full of potential that I just couldn't help hoping that they would change, just as I do with myself and every other human being I care about. But by and large we don't change, do we? We have our patterns of behavior that we stick to even when we recognize them and that they're not leading us to better things. Because trying to be our best selves might reveal that we already are, and that would be too disappointing. Better to stick with the comforting and familiar.

I most thoroughly related to Celia, who derives her self-worth from caring for others and uses that time-consuming task as an excuse to avoid putting herself out there for criticism. I will not go into detail here about the ways in which I feel akin to Celia, but trust that I'm reflecting deeply on my own outside of this review and I plan to have big plans to change and then just go back and do the same things I've always done. Because, best I can tell, that's what mid-life is all about: realizing once and for all that you can change the venue, but you're still the same you no matter what.

Aside from these, I love that du Maurier's Pappy anticipated (or perhaps inspired) Albert Brooks's 1991 film "Defending Your Life." (on p 178 of the edition I read).

I'll finish out with one of the quotes I particularly like because it echoes some of the existential discomfort my middle-schooler is voicing right now:

"Grown-up people...How suddenly would it happen, the final plunge into their world? Did it really come about overnight, as Pappy said, between sleeping and waking? A day would come, a day like any other day, and, looking over your shoulder, you would see the shadow of the child that was, receding; and there would be no going back, no possibility of recapturing the shadow. You had to go on; you had to step forward into the future, however much you dreaded the thought, however much you were afraid." (56)

Looking back, I find it interesting to try and spot that moment for each of the Delaney children---and for myself.
1 vote ImperfectCJ | Jul 26, 2016 |
The backward glances at the careers of the young Delaneys reveal vistas of a vanishing Europe rich in colour and throbbing with old gaiety. The clash of the impulsive, artistic family with the calculating, aristocratic one is extremely well worked out. Above all, the three young Delaneys are characters one accepts as authentic.

One of the few books - if the only book - by du Maurier that is set at roughly the time it was written (it was published in 1949 and set in the 1930s and 1940s) and is a study purely of a trio of siblings.

Pappy and Mama Delaney get married, each bringing a child to the marriage - Pappy (a famous singer) brings Maria who becomes a famous actress and Mama (a famous dancer) brings Niall, who becomes a famous composer of popular ditties. Together Pappy and Mama have Celia, who is an artist that never achieves the fame of her siblings.

In later years Maria marries Charles, one of the landed gentry, and it is here that the book starts - Charles has reached his limits of his wife and her siblings, and within the first few pages has called them "the parasites" of the title and walked out. It is this confrontation that leads the reader through the story of the three siblings, and how things came to this point and where things go from here. It's not quite clear who the narrator is, especially at the beginning, where it's as if there is an additional unnamed person in the room telling the story.

Maria has grown up to be "on the stage" like her parents, and has had various inappropriate relationships during the years, all safely alluded to - one with Michel, who has a thing for underage girls, one with an unnamed married actor from one of her initial plays. Niall has an unhealthy fixation with Maria, getting stage fright for her performances (to the point where he cant watch them), and a difficulty following through with finishing his own work, which is briefly sorted out by escaping to Paris to "live in sin" with Freada, a friend of his parents and old enough to be his mother. Niall and Maria have a borderline incestuous relationship - possibly acted upon sexually and only mitigated in their heads in that they were not, technically, related by blood.

Celia is the one who never quite reaches her artistic fame - she spends enough of her time looking after her father as he gets older and retires, then (so she believes) Maria, then the war, then looks forward to looking after Maria's children. She is always being compared to either one of them (usually Maria) and is constantly reminded "Oh you're not really alike" "We're only half sisters after all". There are the occasional reference to how "fat" she is - in other words she can be anything from one size bigger than Maria to absolutely huge - but she is always made to feel inferior to Maria. Even when Maria borrows Celia's earrings without asking, Celia feels it necessary to think that Maria looks better in them.

It did drag on a *little* bit - I must admit I didn't stay up all night to complete it. However, it is a great study in people and personal/familial dynamics that I'm not sure anyone else could have pulled off as well.
  nordie | Aug 11, 2014 |
I've rather shamefully never read any of Du Maurier's books aside from Rebecca so picked this up to rectify that!

I'm glad I did as I really enjoyed it. It seems Du Maurier is very good at writing about spoilt upper classes and that is effectively what this book is about. It takes place, in the most part, over the space of one day and the story unfolds in flashback. There's also a fantastic 'Weekend in the country' scene which made me laugh out loud. Worth reading for that alone.

The characters (and the ending) were very reminiscent of Rebecca! All in all I'm looking forward to reading more by her. ( )
  ElaineRuss | Sep 23, 2013 |
An enjoyable Du Maurier novel. Although this book is far more light-hearted than Du Maurier's more famous works, there is enough of a dark undercurrent to give the novel substance. Whilst none of the siblings are particularly likeable, they are interesting characters and the plot is compelling. Well worth a read. ( )
  cazfrancis | Mar 18, 2012 |
A curious first-person-pural narrative, "We" meaning all three of the main characters, each of whom is also referred to in the third person. Sub-Noel Coward. ( )
  KayCliff | Nov 13, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Maurier, Daphne duprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bron, EleanorNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Folkel, FerruccioIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Myerson, JulieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Animal parasites are invertebrate animals which have taken up their abode in or upon the living bodies of other animals. From a broad biological outlook parasitism is a negative reaction to the struggle for existence, and always implies a mode of life that is near the line of least resistance....Occasional parasites are to be distinguished from permanent parasites. Among the former are the bed-bug and the leech, which usually abandon their host when they have obtained their object. In the embryo stage they are migratory, moving from host to host, or to a free life before becoming mature... Amongst the latter are the so-called fish-lice, which, with piercing mouth organs and elaborate clinging appartus, remain the same host always, and are amongst the most degenerate parasites known. Parasites affect their hosts by feeding upon their living tissues or cells, and the intensity of the effect upon the hosts ranges from the slightest local injury to complete destruction.  -- The Encyclopaedia Britannica
For Whom the Caps fit
Spring, 1949.
First words
It was Charles who called us the parasites.
I first encountered The Parasites in the Nottingham Library, summer of '76. (Introduction)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Mentioned in Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk....
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Maria, Niall and Celia have grown up in the shadow of their famous parents- their father a flamboyant singer, and their mother a talented dancer. Now pursuing their own creative dreams, all three siblings feel an undeniable bond, but it is Maria and Niall who share the secret of their parents' pasts.
Alternately comic and poignant, The Parasites is based on the artistic milieu its author knew best, and draws the reader effortlessly into that magical world.
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Maria, Niall and Cecila have grown up in the shadow of their famous parents - their father, a flamboyant singer and their mother, a talented dancer. Now pursuing their own creative dreams, all three siblings feel an undeniable bond, but it is Maria and Niall who share the secret of their parent's past.… (more)

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