I would never have read Daphne Du Maurier, had it not been for the internet and some inspired book design.
I thought she was a romance writer – well, you can blame that on those Georgette Heyer lookalike book covers.BBC Big Read in 2003 (anyone remember that). Of course, Rebecca was on that list, but I wasn’t going to be seen dead with a cover like that in my hands. Virago, however, must have tapped into my thoughts because their set from the early 2000s, with the atmospheric covers, reeled me in. I started with Rebecca, followed closely by The House on the Strand (incidentally my very first social read, as part of The BBC Big Read Forum). Another group read followed. This time the book was Rule Brittannia. I remember not liking that as much as the other two, but nevertheless I was impressed with the variety of du Maurier’s topics.
And when someone (I even remember who it was – a chap called Scousedog) made a profound comment about collecting books to read in retirement, I thought it such a good idea …. Et voilà!
At the time I was doing a lot of driving and the library happened to have a goodly supply of du Maurier CD audio books. I listened to Jamaica Inn, Julius, Hungry Hill, and The Scapegoat in quick succession. Strong narratives with interesting settings and characters. Not too deep, perfect drivetime reading.
Then came Venice in February and Don’t Look Now.
Followed by #1951club and My Cousin Rachel.
Just recently the #1965club prompted me to read The Flight of the Falcon.
And so to Daphne Du Maurier reading week for which I have read The Parasites. Originally published in 1949, it was her 12th novel. Not very well received on publication, and not very well received here to be honest. Contemporaneous audiences didn’t appreciate the complication of the narrative – past intermingling with the present, constant switching between 3rd and 1st person narratives, some of them running in parallel time. The standard fodder of present-day literary fiction. Nor did they like the lack of mystery. I didn’t like the 3 main characters: the two half-sisters and the stepbrother who are accused by the husband of Maria, the actress, of being parasites. It’s a comment that plunges them into the elongated self-reflection, which takes up most of the book. In what way are they parasites: the self-absorbed actress, with no time for anything other than her lovers, her career and her stepbrother (the true love of her life), the stepbrother, a successful commercial composer who seemingly cares about nothing other than his stepsister and the concerto he is unable to compose, and the younger half-sister, a talented artist, who refuses all opportunities, preferring to live vicariously through others. Sorry, I didn’t care about any of them, and I wasn’t even interested in the answer to the driving question of the novel.
I did feel a trifle guilty when I discovered that the novel is heavily autobiographical and that Maria, Niall and Celia represent personas that du Maurier felt she had adopted at one time or another. And that she was writing to purge herself of the negative feelings associated with that! Now that is interesting. I feel the reading of a biography coming on ….
I will say that in places The Parasites is wryly funny. Du Maurier is very good at sending up people, who are behaving badly. And there is some very bad behaviour in these pages ….
The other thing that surprised me most was Du Maurier’s English. Has the language really changed so much in the 70 years since The Parasites was published? Napkins meaning nappies for instance.
I have two other pressing questions at the end of this read. It has taken me 16 years to read 10 of Du Maurier’s 20 novels. I most likely don’t have another 16 years to read the others (even if I am now retired). So which novel do you recommend I read next? Also can you recommend a good biography?