The Parasites by Daphne du Maurier

This was the July selection for the SBC. It’s not too late to join the discussion! Visit us at our Goodreads group to discuss this or any of our other selections. August’s book is The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan.


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The Parasites 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 make 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.

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