Most people will have heard of Daphne du Maurier but possibly not The House on the Strand. I actually read it last year (so my review is slightly late 🙂 ) but it’s been percolating in my head ever since, so I thought I’d share my thoughts. Incidentally, this classic was also du Maurier’s favourite of all the books she wrote. So, how does it compare to her more famous works like Rebecca (read my review here), Jamaica Inn, or My Cousin Rachel?
The House on the Strand
Blurb: Dick Young’s old school friend (now Professor) Magnus Lane, offers him an escape from his job hunting troubles with the loan of Kilmarth, Magnus’ house in Cornwall. The catch is that Dick has to agree to be a guinea pig for a new drug that Magnus has created. When he tries it, Dick finds himself transported to the Cornish manor of Tywardreath in the 14th century. As Dick witnesses the intrigues of the court there, he becomes fixated with the steward, Roger, and the captivating Isolda Carminowe. He withdraws from the modern world to spend more and more time in the past. But his attempts to change history bring terror to the present and throw his own life in the balance.
First published in the UK in 1969, The House on the Strand is available as an eBook and paperback from Amazon UK.
Daphne du Maurier (13 May 1907 – 19 April 1989) was an English author and playwright. Although her bestselling works weren’t taken seriously by critics at first, they’ve since earned her an enduring reputation for storytelling craft, and many have been successfully adapted into films. As an aside, I didn’t realise du Maurier’s short story, The Birds, was the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds, released in 1963.
This was my choice for Book Group last year when our theme was to choose a novel published in the year of our birth. So now you can all work out just how ancient I am!
I was caught up in the book straight away. Du Maurier keeps the narrative moving back and forth between both time periods effortlessly, as well as keeping the tension on both levels. Dick, the narrator, is not a particularly sympathetic character. He’s weak, easily led, and rather selfish. But he’s the perfect test subject for Magnus, the eccentric inventor who overawes his friend. That said, none of the characters in the present day are especially likeable either: Vita is overbearing and bossy, and Dr Powell could hardly be described as having his patient’s best interests at heart.
Of the two periods, the historian in me preferred the 14th century. But I also found it interesting that the drug allows Dick’s brain to travel while his body remains in the same physical location: when he walks in the past, he walks in the present, although entirely oblivious to present time. And that’s why he puts his hand through a glass pane in the present. And why Magnus walks under a train. His brain was in the 14th century and the train simply wasn’t there for him.
As the novel progresses, we learn more about the side effects of Magnus’ drug: nausea, vertigo, confusion, and a creeping paralysis. The ending came as a shock and it’s left open, which is something I always like in a novel. Daphne du Maurier said of it: “What about the hero of The House on the Strand? What did it mean when he dropped the telephone at the end of the book?”
The House on the Strand as a film?
I mentioned at the beginning that this was du Maurier’s favourite book and she was disappointed that a film version wasn’t made. Personally, I think this is a film script waiting to happen and I’m amazed no-one’s snapped it up yet. And don’t you think this upside down shot of the front cover looks just like an eye? I’m sure that could be worked into a film poster!
Would I recommend it?
I think the fact that I read this book some six months ago and still find myself thinking about it means that it’s a yes, highly recommended. Even now, I’m still not sure whether Dick and Magnus were really time-travelling or merely hallucinating. LSD was popular in the 1960’s so a perfect topic for du Maurier to explore and craft a novel around. Categorising the book is hard though, because it covers so many topics: science fiction, time travel, supernatural, history, addiction, control. It’s not what I would class a usual Daphne du Maurier, which I think is also in its favour. But I do think it’s a brilliant example of her skill as a storyteller and I’m very glad I picked it for my Book Group choice.
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Have you read The House on the Strand, or any of du Maurier’s other books? What did you think if so?