Last October I asked my husband for a whole stack of Daphne du Maurier books for my birthday. I’ve been reading my way through them slowly, discovering old favourites I haven’t read for years, as well as Daphne du Maurier books I previously knew nothing about. The House on the Strand is one of those books I knew little about before reading. I went in without expectations and was pleasantly surprised by this novel. It’s a time travel book, but written in such an original way. I found it fascinating. It has firmly cemented Daphne du Maurier in my eyes as an author who was the master of any genre.
The House on the Strand is told from the point-of-view of Dick Young. It was first published in 1969 and takes place in the 1960s and 14th century Cornwall. I got a definite Mad Men vibe off the part of the storyline set in the sixties. Dick is friends with the brilliant Professor Magnus Lane. Between jobs, and under pressure to move to America and take a job with his American wife’s brother, Dick borrows the Professor’s house in Cornwall for the summer. While he waits for his wife Vita and his two stepsons to arrive and join him, the Professor gives Dick a task. He asks him to test a drug of the Professor’s creation. A drug that transports the user to 14th century Cornwall. The more ‘trips’ Dick takes, the more addicted he becomes to the real people he meets in the past. Although they can’t see him, he witnesses all their turmoil, struggles and intrigues – all while following a steward of the local gentry named Roger.
I’ve never read a time travel book where a person is able to access the past via drugs. It was such an original premise! And somehow it worked. I found it fascinating how Dick would take the drug and actually walk around the countryside, waking up to find himself in a field or having waded through water. It’s quite a difficult book to review as I don’t want to give the plot away. But I was sucked into the story from the first pages. Once again I’m impressed by how good and diverse a writer du Maurier was. From suspense to historical romance to whatever category this book falls into, she’s a fantastic writer in any genre. The thing that seems to connect many of her books is her love of Cornwall.
Dick was a fun narrator to read. I can’t say I liked him. His another du Maurier character who seems to hate being married or resents company. He has a lot of biting asides like this sentence about his step-sons: “They were great kids. But I could have done without them.” I felt sorry for his wife. It seems like many of du Maurier’s characters are like this. But I guess that’s what makes them seem so human, flaws and all.
Verdict: This was a surprising blend of historical fiction meets time travel that was original and fun to read. Another must-read for Daphne du Maurier fans.
What’s your favourite Daphne du Maurier book?
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