Parasite: an invertebrate animal preying upon the body of another animal.
And that is what Charles thinks of the Delaneys. They have inherited their parents' talents and have done nothing else with their lives. But Charles wasn't specific. Who among the three Delaney children is the parasite? Is it his wife Maria? After all, he knows her better than the rest. And he knows that she is a great actress, so great that she can develop a new personality on cue. And that is precisely her problem. Who is the real Maria? Or is he referring to Niall? Niall is a natural-born talent, a great musician. But his unresolved issues with his mother and his own brooding feelings for his stepsister has stopped him from living his own life. Then there's Celia. Sweet, spinsterish Celia, the only daughter of both Mama and Pappy Delaney (Maria is Pappy's daughter, Neill is Mama's, children borne from a previous relationship). She's the least talented one, not as pretty, and always the mediator. She's also given up on having a husband and children of her own to look after Maria and Charles's kids. She had also looked after her father after her mother died. After Charles's verbal assault, all three of them ponder his meaning, going back to the events that have brought them to where they are today. Are they happy? Could they be anything more than just the Delaneys? Is there a life beyond the entertainment world?
Daphne du Maurier dedicates this novel to "Whom the Caps fit." You soon realize that this story is very personal. Du Maurier's parents were both entertainers, and perhaps that part of her life had left some feelings that ran deep for her. She wrote various memoirs and short stories with this same theme. The Parasites, while not the author's best work, is an entertaining and poignant tale of love and loss. I like the way the author uses a rather interesting second-person narrative. All the reader knows is that one of the three Delaney children is the narrator, but which one? And do we get to find out whom it is? That is all I will reveal on the matter. Suffice it to say that the unique narrative style draws you in from the beginning. Another interesting thing is the relationship between Maria, Neill and Celia -- especially the first two. There is a Cathy and Heathcliff feel to them that is quite noticeable from the start. This is especially clear in Maria's selfishness, their unnatural clinginess toward each other since childhood (Maria used to pick on Neill when they were kids) and Neill's jealousy when Maria meets Charles. Their relationship is not as dark or as morbid as Emily Bronte's couple, but the similarities are there. And that is all the information I will supply. Don't want to go all book club discussion-type on you. You will have to read this magnificent book to know the rest. First published in 1949, The Parasites is a nice, quick read from Du Maurier, falling into a lighter cateogory, somewhere between Frenchman's Creek and The King's General, only that it's contemporary and more poignant. I recommend it.