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Fiction that reflects the times in which it was written is so much more interesting for me than historical fiction – there is a resonance which is hard to recreate after the fact. So, this collection of Second World War stories was a perfect read for me. Wave me Goodbye is a superb collection of women’s voices portraying a period that continues to fascinate.

In these stories we see clearly women’s lives and participation in the war. It’s a different role to the male role – often more domestic, those daily struggles to keep everything together. There is humour and pathos in these stories, and together they depict a world of gas masks and shelters, the drama and devastation of being bombed out, the agony of watching a loved one go off to war. With such a range of writers collected together we see a variety of viewpoints too; it is a collection that is a must for any reader interested in women’s writing of this period.

It can be hard to accurately review an anthology of stories, especially with such a range of fascinating writers in one volume. A few of the stories I had read before in other collections, stories like Goodbye Balkan Capital by Barbara Pym, Miss Anstruther’s Letters by Rose Macaulay and Goodbye My Love by Mollie Panter Downes and a few others but it was no struggle to read those again. Alongisde these we have some of the greatest women writers of the period, Olivia Manning, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Bowen, Margery Sharp, Jean Rhys and Sylvia Townsend Warner among others, a veritable who’s who of women writers. However, I can naturally only really give a flavour of this collection.

The Collection opens with When the Waters came by Rosamond Lehmann. A woman and her children spending the war in the country are shocked when a great thaw comes suddenly in February and floods the village. I couldn’t help but think that this might have been something of how it felt to suddenly find yourself living in a country at war.

“The thaw came in February, not gradually but with violence, overnight. Torrents of brown snow-water poured down from the hills into the valley. By the afternoon, the village street was gone, and in its stead a turbulent flood raced between the cottages.”

At once the familiar landscape altered, disorienting and potentially dangerous.

In The lovely leave by Dorothy Parker a wife anticipates the upcoming leave of her husband. He is due to have twenty-four hours, and she remembers how she had allowed her husband’s previous leave to be spoilt – and is determined to not make the same mistakes.

I really enjoyed The Mysterious Kor by Elizabeth Bowen – which starts in an almost dreamlike fashion, Arthur and his girlfriend Pepita walking together in a London street. Pepita muses about the mysterious Kor – quoting some lines of poetry about a magical seeming place that is far and away from the reality of their lives.

“This war shows we’ve by no means come to the end. If you can blow whole places out of existence, you can blow whole places into it.”

Arthur is on leave and he and Pepita walk back to the flat she shares with Callie – Callie has agreed that Arthur can stay on the sofa while he is in London. Callie welcomes them eagerly with cocoa – happy to experience something of their lives vicariously.

In Night Engagement by Margery Sharp a mother sees the nightly escape into the air raid shelter as the perfect opportunity for her daughter Doris to meet a nice young man. Each day they decide which shelter would be best – later discussing the merits of anyone Doris met the night before. When Doris is trapped under a collapsed building with a young railway worker, Doris’s mother wastes no time in going round to introduce herself to the young man’s mother and the two women begin to make plans as they await the re-emergence of their offspring.

Yet another side to the many domestic difficulties is highlighted in The Sailor’s Wife by Ann Chadwick. A naval wife is desperate to find lodgings for herself her baby and for her husband when he is on leave. She has come to a coastal town where her husband’s ship will dock and leaving her child at the hotel – she walks despondently from house to house around the town practically begging for a place to stay.

As we progress further into the collection, we begin the aspects of the end of the war, and its immediate aftermath.

“A new road, which ran a lane’s length from the farm, was being built by German prisoners, still retained though the war was long over, and from eight in the morning until dusk there was a sound of continuous noisy activity about the moorland farm, as they grey-green figures broke up the stones which were brought in by lorries from the neighbouring stone quarries. The old people, who were called William and Mary Illingworth, had but often seen the prisoners, but had not yet spoken to one of them.”

In The Mandoline by Malachi Whitaker a German prisoner of war is brought to the home of an elderly couple by his guard. The prisoner wants to borrow the couple’s mandoline to play at the camp’s concert. Now, I was mightily confused by a mandoline (not mandolin) and google couldn’t help. Still, the story is a tenderly observed piece and beautifully written.

Altogether this was a quite marvellous collection, and clearly right up my street. Highly recommended for likeminded readers.

May in review

The end of another month in lockdown, and as I am continuing to shield I may not be going anywhere just yet. I hope you all continue to safe, well and as sane as any of us are at the moment.

I have read some brilliant books in May, it was of course Daphne du Maurier reading week earlier in the month, I actually spent two weeks reading her and it was a complete joy. Seeing so many people sharing their enthusiasm for her books was really inspiring. It was also my birthday, I received good lockdown gifts, pyjamas, books, jigsaws, chocolate, and tea. Lockdown birthdays are necessarily quiet, but it was still nice.

I started the month with the first of the books I read in preparation for DDM reading week, The Birds and other stories. There are six long short stories in the collection, each of them fully immersive and of a satisfying length. In these stories, we find ourselves on the English coast, in a remote European mountain village, a sun soaked holiday resort for the wealthy and a rural English landscape. The opening title story is the most memorable of course, absolutely chilling and utterly brilliant.

The Flight of the Falcon was next – a thoroughly interesting and immersive novel with a tremendous sense of place. A young Italian man working as a courier with a tourist company travels back to his hometown, where the past is everywhere. There are simmering resentments, jealousies, and fragile allegiances at the town’s university, though at the heart of the novel there is a mystery about an old woman’s death – and a brother’s obsession.

The Parasites offered yet another kind of narrative from DDM and I started to really see just how varied her writing is. This is a pretty autobiographical novel about three theatrical siblings.

My final book for DDM reading week was The Scapegoat, it’s a novel of doppelgangers – two men meet and swap identities. You may initially have to suspend disbelief, but once you do, this is a fantastic read.

The Skin Chairs by Barbara Comyns was my next read, narrated by ten year old Frances it is classic Comyns. Comyns presents us with an adult world seen through a child’s eyes, several eccentric characters combine with the strange and the macabre.

The first of the books I have still to review is Wave me Goodbye edited by Anne Boston, a wonderful collection of Second World War stories – packed with the kind of writers I love, there were a few stories I was reading for the second time but that was no hardship. Sylvia Townsend Warner, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, Olivia Manning and Jean Rhys are just some of the women writers collected here.

The Murder of my Aunt by Richard Hull from the brilliant British Library was a thoroughly enjoyable golden age mystery, told in a wonderfully arch tone – it is wickedly wry and has a brilliant twist.

On my trusty old kindle, I read The House Opposite by Barbara Noble a Furrowed Middlebrow title from Dean Street Press. It is a brilliant depiction of living through the London blitz. It is a very vivid picture of the times, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

My book group went with my suggestion of Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann for our June read. I first read it just over ten years ago, so it has been a great joy to re-read it. At the time of writing (early Sunday evening) I have less than a hundred pages to go – and I suspect I won’t quite read all of those pages by midnight, but it can still count for May – just.

Plans for June? I don’t really have any. Though I am reminded by the arrival of the Persephone biannually that I haven’t read any Persephone for a while. I have five tbr and four of those are non-fiction – and that is the problem. I read very little non-fiction anyway and have definitely been in even less of a non-fiction mood than usual. Still, I may try one of them. Other than that, I will go where my mood takes me.

What have you been reading in May? I always enjoy hearing about brilliant books I should be looking out for.

Whatever you are reading and whatever you are doing, locked down or venturing nervously out into the world, I hope you stay safe and well.  

It is difficult to properly convey what it is like to read a Barbara Comyns novel to someone who hasn’t read her before, though I suspect many of you will have read her before. Her easy, straightforward style may seem to have a blasé innocence but there is a lot more going on. Combining matters of middle class domestic poverty – something present in all her fiction – with the unpleasant, cruel, and even macabre at times, she presents her readers with a world which feels slightly skewed, though completely recognisable. The Skin Chairs in the eighth of Comyns’ eleven novels I have read – I have one more tbr – and there are two that I may have to give up ever finding, so rare do they appear to be. It is classic Comyns, the sixth of her novels to be published. 

Frances is the first person narrator of The Skin Chairs, and the novel opens shortly after her tenth birthday. Frances is one of six children and she has been sent to stay with her Lawrence relations for a few weeks while her tired mother has a rest. Soon after her arrival, Frances’ father dies suddenly, plunging the family into quite serious penury. Aunt and Uncle Lawrence are well off, horsey and horribly patronising. Aunt Lawrence is especially rather bullying, and the sensitive Frances frequently finds herself in the wrong. Her cousins: Charles, Ruby and Grace are clearly products of their upbringing, Grace the closest to Frances in age is who Frances spends the most time, but she is capable of childish spite that leaves Frances in tears.

Frances’ mother is obliged to give up the beloved family home and is strongly encouraged by the Lawrences to take a much smaller house nearby called The Hollies. They can’t afford a maid, and so Frances’s older sister Polly undertakes much of the domestic work – seeming more capable and organised than their mother, who is distressed by their new circumstances, rather weak and easily cowed by the likes of Aunt Lawrence. The family are required to spend Sunday lunches with the Lawrences – well just a couple of them are asked each week, a lottery none of them wish to win. Frances’ siblings Esme and John come home from boarding school – new day schools will be attended by them instead. The youngest two are Clare – born with one hand, and Toby.

“One night I dreamt that Mother’s head had been severed and made into a pork pie. Although it was pork pie, I could still see it was a dead head. There was another fearful dream that Father was floating down the canal, all enlarged with water, and that eels were living in him.”

As I said Frances is a sensitive child, beset by disturbing dreams and very observant of the people around her. In the company of her cousin Ruby, Frances meets Vanda, a beautiful young widow with a baby called Jane. The story of Vanda and baby Jane is a typically horrifying Comyns tale. Frances is smitten by the baby, her maternal instincts roused by a child the reader instantly knows is horribly neglected. Frances ranges quite freely around the village and the local area, meeting a host of colourful characters.

It is also with Ruby that Frances is taken to the house where the General lives. A house known primarily for the skin chairs, a set of chairs covered in human skin, poor Frances is horrified and fascinated by these chairs, wondering what happened to the souls of the men whose skin adorns them.

“One chair certainly was lighter than the rest and I carefully sat on it, expecting something strange to happen; but it was exactly like sitting in any other uncomfortable chair. My bare arms touched the back and, remembering what it was made of, I stood up and wiped my arms with my handkerchief. With a feeling of awe I gazed at the chairs thinking of the poor skinless bodies buried somewhere in Africa. Did they ever come to see what had happened to their skins or had they forgotten all about them?”

Frances makes herself a little hide away in an abandoned barn – her own home away from home. The idea of home is clearly something important to Frances. She tries with limited success to keep out of the way of the very odd Mrs Alexander who has taken a liking to Frances. Mrs Alexander drives around in a very conspicuous yellow sports car and keeps pet monkeys – and is generally considered very odd by the villagers. Another new arrival in the village is Mr Blackwell – another individual the Lawrences definitely disapprove of – but who heralds some change for Frances’s family.

This wonderfully quirky Comyns novel that describes an adult world through a child’s eyes is full of odd and surprising images. It joins The Juniper Tree and The Vet’s Daughter in my top three Comyns novels.

Patricia Wentworth was a hugely prolific writer of Golden age mysteries – for some reason I had never read her before. Probably best known for her Miss Silver mysteries she also wrote many standalone novels and Silence in Court is one of them. Dean Street Press have re-issued a number of her standalone novels, and I picked up several for my kindle when they were being offered up very cheaply or even free. I actually read this right at the end of April but haven’t had chance to review it till now – it was a really good quick read, perfect for a lazy weekend.

Set in London, during the Second World War; the novel opens as Carey Silence steps into the dock. She stands accuses of the murder of Honoria Maquisten, whose home Carey had been welcomed into just two weeks before the murder. Carey is numb with the shock of her situation, feeling unlike herself she stands shakily to hear the indictment.

“She was so rigidly controlled as she came into the dock that she wasn’t Carey Silence any more, or a girl, or young, but just a will to walk straight and seemly, to hold a proud head high, to bar sight and hearing against all these people who had come to see her tried for her life. There was a moment when the grip she had on herself wavered giddily ….”

The narrative then takes us back to the time when Carey Silence first met Honoria Maquisten. Having been working as a secretary to an MP, Carey was hospitalised when a bomb exploded near to the train they were travelling on. Still recovering from her ordeal, Carey was contacted by Honoria Maquisten when she saw her name in the paper – Honoria had been the cousin and greatest friend of Carey’s grandmother. Another distant cousin, American Jeff Stewart, who has been fluttering rather dotingly around Carey accompanies her to the door of the Maquisten house – insisting that she promise to see him soon.

Carey is given a fond welcome by Honoria – who sees something of her dear cousin Julia in Carey, and quickly Carey becomes the new favourite. Carey’s arrival has a somewhat mixed reaction from the other members of the household – because she is by no means the only one who has been taken up by Honoria. Three other relatives live in the house, three cousins, Honoria’s niece Nora – whose husband is away in the East, nephew Dennis invalided out of the war, and another niece Honor who volunteers packing parcels for POWs. Robert, another nephew visits regularly but doesn’t live in the house. A maid who has served Honoria faithfully for many years and a professional nurse who cares for Honoria in her fragile health complete the household.

Here Wentworth provides us with some really well-drawn characters, Carey herself is immediately engaging and Honoria a wonderfully vivid creation, with a safe full of fabulous jewels and a constant preoccupation with her will. The reader can never be certain who it is that we need to be suspicious of – and the dynamic of this household and its inhabitants is well portrayed. Told in relatively short chapters, that make the narrative feel perfectly paced – I found myself flying through the book.

Honoria likes to keep a firm hand on her affairs and is well known for altering her will at a moments notice, telling everyone about it and generally making a bit of a drama about the document. Not long after her arrival, Honoria announces that Carey will be added into the will – though she doesn’t reveal to what extent.

Carey has settled into the house well, she has begun to get on well with some members of the household, when a hand delivered letter arrives one day and upsets everything. Carey, Nora, Dennis and Honor are all out when the letter arrives. The contents of the letter put Honoria into a terrible rage – and she demands that whichever of her relatives return first they be sent straight to her. This falls to Carey. Carey can do nothing to soothe the old lady, and is directed to phone Honoria’s solicitor, who it happens is away for a day or two. Honoria demands that his clerk should come to the house instead the following day. Insisting that she has been deceived she tells everyone that one of the beneficiaries will be cut out of her will completely – though she never reveals who that is.

That night, a sleeping draught is prepared for the old lady who is still upset – it is prepared by the nurse as usual and left on the shelf in the bathroom. As it happens Carey is asked to fetch it. When Honoria is found dead the following morning, the house is in uproar. The police are called in and an awful lot of emphasis put on who was where when, and who could or could not have tampered with the medicine glass. Carey is almost immediately put under suspicion, and the evidence of one member of the household sees her placed under arrest.

“She had come to an inner strength that held her up. When things were so bad that they couldn’t be any worse, something came to you—some courage, some control.”

The second half of the book is more in the realms of a courtroom drama, and here Patricia Wentworth pitches the tension just right. Jeff Stewart has arrived back after some time away, and convinced that Carey is innocent, is desperate that her consul prove it. Jeff ensures that Carey is represented by the best – he lets Carey know how he feels about her, that he believes in her. Imprisoned and alone; Carey is still reeling from having been welcomed into a family and then accused of murder all within such a short period of time.  

I thoroughly enjoyed the court room scenes – the tension as the reader awaits a crucial piece of evidence to come along and settle to matter, certainly makes it hard to put down at this point. We hear the evidence from the point of view of several of the characters, and eventually everything falls into place.

My first foray into the world of Patricia Wentworth was certainly an enjoyable one. I have several more of these re-issued standalone novels on my kindle – I am sure I will read another before too long.

Popping up with this review much later in the week than I had initially intended – but that’s just the way things go sometimes.

“I could not ask for forgiveness for something I had not done. As scapegoat, I could only bear the fault.”

The Scapegoat was my fourth read for last week’s #DDMreadingweek. I had seen a lot of very favourable talk about it, so I felt I had to read it as soon as it arrived. I’m so glad I did, it’s a fantastic read.

Our narrator; John is an Englishman who has studied and lectured in French history for years, he speaks the language so well he can pass for French easily. The Comte Jean de Gué is a Frenchman, who like John is dissatisfied and frustrated with the life he has been living.

“My realisation that all I had ever done in life, not only in France but in England also, was to watch people, never to partake in their happiness or pain, brought such a sense of overwhelming depression, deepened by the rain stinging the windows of the car, that when I came to Le Mans, although I had not intended to stop there and lunch, I changed my mind, hoping to change my mood.”

The two men meet in a provincial French railway station – both of them completely stunned that they appear to be completely identical. This is perhaps the one place where we need to suspend our disbelief a little. We have all met identical twins I’m sure – and while there can be a moment of confusion – they are different people entirely and it wouldn’t take more than a moment or two for any confusion to be resolved. So, the idea that two men, with no familial connection could swap identities with no one suspecting is far-fetched – but if you just accept it then the novel becomes wonderfully compelling and fully immersive.

Having met by chance the two men spend the evening talking and drinking. They each tell the other a bit about their lives – John has no family, few friends, his work has been his life. Jean is worn down by his family and responsibilities. Ending up at a hotel where the Comte has taken a room, John falls into a drunken stupor, waking the next morning to find everything changed. His companion of the evening before has disappeared – taking everything belonging to John with him, passport, papers, keys, car all gone and with them his very identity. When the Comte’s chauffeur turns up to collect his employer – he assumes John’s protestations to be the ravings of a man who has seriously over done it.

Feeling like he has no option, John assumes the identity of The Comte Jean de Gué, travelling back to Jean’s family home; a château near the village of St Gilles. Here he is thrust into a family and business situation of which he has no knowledge. It takes all his skill and intelligence to figure out who is who and what is what.

“One had no right to play about with people’s lives. One should not interfere with their emotions. A word, a look, a smile, a frown, did something to another human being, waking response or aversion, and a web was woven which had no beginning and no end, spreading outward and inward too, merging, entangling, so that the struggle of one depended upon the struggle of the other.”

At the château he is met with a large family – a man, three younger women, an older matriarch, a ten year old girl and several servants. One immediate challenge to find his way to the Comte’s room and the luggage the chauffer just took away without anyone realising he doesn’t know where it is. What is his relationship to all these people supposed to be, and what is the family business that is clearly a source of tension? Which of the women is his wife? And why is there such bad blood between Jean and one of the other women? Bit by bit John manages to find out who everyone is – but his difficulties are far from over. When asked if he managed to secure the contract in Paris, John recklessly says he did – to the amazement of everyone who clearly thought it an impossible task. He then sets out to cover up his blunder and secure a new contract himself, understanding nothing about the financial constraints the company is under.

The family is not a happy one, the past is everywhere – something that happened at the end of the war is still having an effect. No one it seems finds anything in the imposter Jean’s behaviour to alert them to the truth, in fact the only inhabitants of the château who sense that something is wrong are the dogs – who quite sensibly growl whenever he approaches. Animals always know.

“I dragged myself to my feet, and with my hellhound in tow started off once more through the fastness of the wood, feeling, as the poet did before me, that my companion would be with me through the nights and through the days and down the arches of the years, and I should never be rid of him.”

It’s not too long before John realises that Jean is a much harder, more ruthless man than himself – and with that comes the knowledge that in his escape Jean has left John to be the scapegoat for all the mistakes of the past. John makes mistakes too, as he attempts to find his way with a family he starts to care about in a way he could never have predicted. However, where can this all possibly lead?

Although there is some tension and drama in this novel it is far more a novel of the psychology of taking on the identity of another. Du Maurier beautifully explores the psychology and motivations of both men and the subtle differences between them. A beautifully written novel, du Maurier’s sense of place is as strong as ever, characters step fully formed from the pages. More than that, The Scapegoat is just a damn good read – and I sat up far too late the other night finishing it.

As another #DDMreadingweek draws to a close, I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who has been joining in and showing enthusiasm for Daphne du Maurier during the week of her (and my) birthday.

It as been so nice to connect with other readers and bloggers and share reviews and thoughts on some great books. Not everyone has agreed absolutely on those books – but isn’t that part of the fun, and part of what makes blogging and reading events so interesting?

I began my reading early – being host I wanted to be properly organised and in the du Maurier zone – and had planned on reading three books. As I write I am into the final third of my fourth book, Daphne really is very readable, and I haven’t at all minded reading four in a row. I began with The Birds and other stories, stories that are quite unsettling in nature – one story ending with a very clever twist – in these stories DDM shows her talent for exploring place and character within the short form. The title story is of course just brilliant – and simply unforgettable. I then moved on to The Flight of the Falcon, an Italian set novel with a male narrator, it shows yet another side to Du Maurier’s writing – a modern setting with some drama and tension and a tremendous sense of place. I then read The Parasites, an autobiographical novel about theatrical siblings who grew up in the shadow of their famous parents. A different kind of narrative again and looking back at other works of Daphne du Maurier I have read previously, I began to appreciate just how diverse her storytelling ability is. On my birthday (Wednesday) I was finishing The Parasites, and I had a pile of gifts to open from friends and family. One of my gifts was a copy of The Scapegoat – which I had heard such good thigs about, I decided I might as well read it straight away. So, I started it late on Wednesday night, and I can confirm it is really excellent. It shall be reviewed in due course.

Speaking of reviews – apologies to readers who are sick of DDM, normal service will be resumed – I still have one book from my April reading pile to review. One of these days I will get back on track.

If you haven’t had chance yet – please have a look at the page I set up for #DDMreadingweek 2020 – there you will find lots of links to other people’s blog posts – some fantastic pieces – which are already inspiring my choices for future reading. There are still several Daphne du Maurier books I have to read – as well as biographies, so I can’t think of a reason not to do this again next year. Don’t worry if you haven’t reviewed anything yet but intend to do so – I shall carry on adding links as they come in.

I was reminded recently of a Backlisted podcast episode about Daphne du Maurier, its mostly about The Breaking Point story collection. I really recommend it. Also, if you have yet to discover it there are lots of wonderful reviews and articles on the Daphne du Maurier website.

Whether you have been reading Daphne du Maurier or following along from the side lines I hope you enjoyed indulging in all things Daphne – I know I did.

My third read for #DDMreadingweek was Daphne du Maurier’s 1949 novel The Parasites which is considered to be fairly autobiographical. Again, it is quite different to the other two books of hers I have just read, and different again to those I read last year. My reading has inadvertently led me to explore different sides of the writing of Daphne du Maurier and I have found I like it all. I like the chilling, unsettling nature of her shorter fiction, the historical novels like The House on the Strand, the gothic drama of Rebecca, and the slower paced novels with a strong sense of place like The Flight of the Falcon. In a way The Parasites is like none of those. It is a less dramatic work, and yet there are small moments of drama – as this is the story of a family, and there is some drama in every family. This family though, like du Maurier’s own, is a theatrical family.

“Once a person gave his talent to the world, the world put a stamp upon it. The talent was not a personal possession anymore. It was something to be traded, bought and sold. It fetched a high price, or a low one. It was kicked in the common market.”

The Delaneys; Maria, Niall and Celia grew up in the shadow of their famous parents. Pappy: their father, a singer, a character loved by audiences who is larger than life and Mama a dancer. Brought up together from the earliest childhood, the three are not full siblings. Maria Pappy’s child from a previous liaison, Niall Mama’s son from her previous relationship. Celia the youngest is the child they had together. Niall and Maria despite having no blood tie have always had a strong bond, an understanding existing between them that left everyone else out. Celia feels her connection to the other two strongly, but she is always just a little on the outside. 

The novel opens when the three siblings are grown up, they are all clearly in their thirties, Maria is a mother, married to Charles Wyndham. A typical lazy Sunday afternoon with Maria, Niall and Celia together for the weekend, at Farthings, the Wyndham family home. The children are out of sight – cared for by their nanny Polly – the adults chatter idly as they lounge around. Maria is an actress, Niall a song writer, while Celia’s own ambitions of writing and illustrating stories, is always being put on hold as she rushes to lend whatever support her family needs. Suddenly, Charles explodes into irritated anger, calling the three of them parasites – shocking them into silence and then reminiscence.

‘And that’s what you are, the three of you. Parasites. The whole bunch. You always have been and you always will be. Nothing can change you. You are doubly, triply parasitic: first, because you traded ever since childhood on that seed of talent you had the luck to inherit from your fantastic forebears: secondly, because you’ve none of you done a stroke of ordinary honest work in your lives, but batten upon us, the fool public who allow you to exist; and thirdly, because you prey upon each other, the three of you, living in a world of fantasy which you have created for yourselves and which bears no relation to anything in heaven or on earth.’

The narrator is interesting, each of the three siblings are spoken about in the third person, by a collective we. Cleverly, du Maurier never lets this narrative voice intrude too much – and it certainly helps to portray the Delaneys as a unit.  

We return to the Delaneys in childhood – a childhood that included late nights at the theatre with their parents, piling into European hotels showering the reception area with bag and baggage and even pets. Their childhood unconventional and rackety – their education rather erratic. The faithful Truda is always with them – the entire family rely on her sensible no nonsense management. The children are always together – they are of similar ages and have no need of other children. They enjoy vicariously the adulation bestowed upon their parents – as they too worship the wonderful Delaneys from the wings. As the children are just entering their teenage years, a tragedy brings the life they have all known thus far to an abrupt stop.

“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.”

Maria goes on to the stage, selfish and too used to the attention of others, attention she still craves. Niall – never very confident of his own abilities, is lazy and unambitious, at eighteen he begins a relationship with Freada a woman who was once a friend of his mother’s. Celia never achieves what she might have been able to because she spends too much time looking after others. She is quite needy and revels in the company of Maria and Niall, though her kindness to her family is at some sacrifice to herself. Maria marries Charles as she rather likes the idea of being an honourable. Neither of the other two marry – Maria spends the week in London at the theatre, her children and their father remain in the country – each week, all three of the adult Delaney siblings arrive at the family home for the weekend. In a sense the three of them never really grew up, they are each quite flawed – connected strongly by their shared childhood which was so much removed from anyone outside of the Delaney bubble.  

The Parasites is a great exploration of character and the strong ties that connect an unconventional family to one another. It’s certainly different to other du Maurier books but I enjoyed it very much, a well written psychological exploration that is actually rather compelling.