My first confession is that this is the second time I have tried to read The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier, despite considering myself as bit of a fan. Jamaica Inn is one of my favourite books and I love Rebecca and Fishermans Creek. However, my first attempt at The House on the Strand some years ago was abandoned, I simply couldn’t get going with it. This time I was more determined, primarily because it was my book club book for this month but also because I genuinley wanted to read it.
The House on the Strand is the story of Dick Young and his foray into time travel. Dick’s friend Professor Magnus Lane lends him his house in Cornwall for the summer and at the same time persuades him to be a guinea pig for a new drug he is developing. Although initially reticent, Dick agrees to take the drug and finds himself transported back to the 14th century where he becomes a bystander to intrigue adultery and murder in the domaine of Sir Henry Champernoune, Lord of the manor of Tywardreath. As Dick finds himself regularly frustrated by his mundane life with his wife Vita and her sons he takes ever bigger doses of the drug, spending more and more time in the past. He is increasingly withdrawn and moody as he becomes addicted to this other world, eventually putting his own life at real risk.
As on my previous attempt, it took me some time to get going. I certainly wasn’t immediately grabbed as with other du Maurier novels, but I did make enough headway with it to want to keep going. The idea of being able to travel between two worlds is intriguing. This novel was full of detail and enabled Dick and the reader to make regular comparisons between the past and present as he was always transported back to the place he was in when he took the potion.
Du Maurier’s portrayal of Cornwall is as always wonderful. The descriptions of wild countryside, manor houses and rugged coastline immediately transports the reader there. I always leave a DuMaurier novel hankering after Cornwall and despite the often grisly nature of the goings-on I still found myself dwelling the beauty and otherworldliness of it.
I usually enjoy novels which have two stories running along side one another and my best experience of these is when I am equally enthralled by both. I’m afraid that just wasn’t the case with this one. I struggled with the multiple characters in the 14th century world and felt I had very little invested in them. I was regularly relieved to come back to Dicks story in the present day.
I can see the cleverness in this novel and the skill shown by du Maurier in creating two worlds so that the reader is given opportunity to inhabit both. In fact as Dick became increasingly embroiled in the ‘other world’ and confused by which was his current reality I think the same happened for me as a reader, as I grappled with the reality of either stories.
So I must conclude by saying this is certainly not a favourite ‘du Maurier but it has given me a broader understanding and appreciation of the skill of this eternally popular writer.