Daphne du Maurier: The House on The Strand (1965)

The House on the Strand

Echoing the great fantastic stories of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, The House on the Strand is a masterful yarn of history, romance, horror, and suspense that will grip the reader until the last surprising twist.

What a mysterious and hypnotic read. I really enjoyed it and was surprised that it was much more complex than I had assumed at first. Complex and also dark. The House on the Strand is a time-travel story, something that isn’t very typical for Daphne du Maurier and also a genre that I don’t like normally. If the part in our time hadn’t been so compelling I wouldn’t have liked it that much, I’m sure.

Richard Young has come to a point in his life in which nothing is certain anymore. He is married to a young dynamic American woman , Vita, who has two little boys from a first marriage. She would like him to move from England to the States and start working for her brother. Although Dick has resigned from his old post with a renowned editor, he can’t make up his mind or rather, he doesn’t want to move to the States. Very clearly he has to decide whether this intercontinental marriage does still make sense or not.

The summer holidays have started and Magnus, Dick’s childhood friend, has lent him his old family home in Cornwall. The only thing he’d like Dick to do in exchange, is to try a drug that he has developed which will transport the user back to the 14th century. Dick has almost a week to try out the drug until Vita and the boys will arrive from the States and join him for their summer holiday.

Right after his first trip to 14th century Cornwall, Dick is hooked. He is fascinated by what he sees, a complex story of interwoven families, betrayal, adultery and crime that is displayed before his very eyes with so much intensity and brightness that it seems more appealing than his real life.

Soon after the first trip he goes on the next one. Being “over there” doesn’t pose a problem but coming back has occasionally side effects like nausea and confusion. Additionally he never knows where he will return. It could be quite dangerous as there are roads and railway lines which didn’t exist in the 14th century England. The way du Maurier wrote these transitions has quite an effect on the reader as well. She blends the changing so well that I had almost the feeling I took part.

What is peculiar is the fact that both Magnus, who also went on trips, and Dick see everything that happens through the eyes of a man named Roger, a servant. On his first trip Dick sees Isolda a woman who moves him like Vita never could.

Things start to go wrong after the first two trips. Vita arrives far too early and interferes with Dick’s wish of going on further trips. He will have to sneak out and try the drug behind their backs. The whole dynamic of their relationship is interesting. They have very different expectations. All Dick wants is to be left alone and go on trips, all she wants is to be with him and plan their future.

The House on the Strand is as much the portrait of an addiction as the story of a marriage going wrong. At the heart of it is a man who doesn’t know what he wants in his life and what direction it should take. He must learn to face the consequences of the decisions he has taken in the past. We wonder why he got married to Vita in the first place, they seem so ill-assorted.

What makes this an uncanny read is the fact that Dick can’t fight his addiction and that the drug has side effects about which Magnus didn’t inform him. Both Magnus and Dick pay for their experiments with the drug. In very different ways. The ending is pure horror.

I have read quite a few books by Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, Jamaica Inn and her short story collection Don’t Look Now. While The House on the Strand isn’t the best, it is very good and so special that I can really recommend it. It’s uncanny and realistic at the same time and very engrossing.

The House on the Strand is my first contribution to  Carl’s R.I.P. VI. Here’s the link to other reviews.