Thursday, November 04, 2021

65. The Parasites by Daphne du Maurier

I found this beautiful first-printing hardcover (sadly without a slipcover, but check out the type and colour below) in the fecund free shelf on St-Viateur.  I had really dug the horror short stories of du Maurier and was hoping a book called The Parasites was also going to be a horror story.  Well it was pretty dark and disturbing but of the purely non-supernatural realm.  This is a well-written character study of three broken children of successful performers.  I'm not really sure what the point of it all was as two of them were hateful and the third maddeningly pathetic.  du Maurier is just such a good writer that it was easy to keep reading.  The locations and situations of pre and post-war Europe (mainly London and environs) were richly and entertainingly portrayed but god the people were such spoiled and self-centered shits.

Niall, Maria and Celia are raised by a famous dancer (mom) and a famous singer (mom).  Both are parents to Celia and one each is a parent to older Niall and Maria.  They are left to run wild as children, with the distant mom and the loving but distracted dad.  They grow up accordingly with each inheriting a strong talent (Maria for acting, Niall for piano and Celia for drawing) as well as a deep malaise and inability to live in the world in a happy, positive way.  The book is centered around Maria's aristocratic and old school husband finally getting sick of them (calling them parasites) which triggers reminiscences, sending the reader back in time so we see how they got that way.

It's mostly quite melancholy and kind of depressing.  There are some bright moments, such as when the family first goes to the manor of Maria's new husband (named hilariously "Coldhammer") and commit all these hilarious faux pas.  As I say, very well written, so if you like rich studies of broken, spoiled people, this will be for you.

 Postscript: did a bit of reading and see that The Parasites is considered a bit of an outlier in her work and is broadly autobiographical (she had a clinging actor father and a distant mother).  That makes a lot more sense as to the purpose of the book.

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