I was actually intending to re-read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca or Mary Anne when I came across The House on the Strand, so thinking I had not read this story before, chose it instead. I got a few chapters in before realising I had already read The House on the Strand too, but since I couldn’t remember what happened, decided to continue. (This blog is going to be a blessing as I grow older, as I will be able to check what I’ve already read. If my review says I liked a book and I truly can’t remember it, then I may well re-read it anyway).
The House on the Strand follows the adventures of a fellow called Dick, who has thrown in his boring job – lucky chap – who can afford to do that anymore? In the meantime, Dick is spending time at a friend’s family home in Cornwall thinking about what he wants to do next. His American wife Vita wants him to take a similar job to the one he has recently left and move to New York, but Dick is not convinced that living in New York with his wife and stepsons will make him happy.
The house Dick is staying in belongs to his long-time friend Magnus, who is a biophysicist. Magnus has invented a drug and has asked Dick to trial it. When Dick takes the drug (this is a man in his thirties, mind you, not some teenager bowing to peer-pressure), he is transported to the past, where he becomes an unseen observer watching the affairs of the people who lived in the area over 600 years ago.
Each time Dick takes a trip to the past he becomes more and more interested in what is happening, to the point where he begins to confuse the events of the present and the past and wants to be there more than he does in his own time, particularly after Vita and the boys turn up unexpectedly in Cornwall.
Dick always follows a steward named Roger who is in love with the Lady Isolda during his time-travels. I felt more engaged with the characters from the present than those of the past though, and became a bit confused with all of the political intrigues from the 14th century sections of the story. Regardless of this, I still enjoyed the book.
I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the Cornwall landscape, both present and past. The changes caused by the sea over the years to the area where the book was set was fascinating. I also enjoyed reading of a sailing trip with the present day characters, some relishing the wind and waves and others becoming violently sea-sick. Growing up reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, I already have a mental image of a rugged coast line (and smuggler’s caves) in Cornwall and the descriptions of the coast in The House on the Strand did not disappoint.
The House on the Strand was written in the late 1960’s when the author was in her sixties, and I was surprised at her ability to have her characters use a drug similar to LSD in order to time travel, and to do it convincingly. (Not that I was around in the ‘Swinging Sixties’, nor have I used LSD, or time-travelled if it comes to that, but you know what I mean. I’m middle aged and have no idea about the fashion of today, let alone so I’m impressed that Daphne du Maurier did not make a fool of herself by telling a story using characters living a life-style which must have been alien to her own).
I’ll save a re-read of Rebecca for another time.