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.

37 thoughts on “Daphne du Maurier: The House on The Strand (1965)

  1. I haven’t read this one, although I read as many of her books as I find at the library when I was a teenager. My favorite was Frenchman’s Creek, which I liked even better than Rebecca. I really need to re-read some of her books, and include The House on the Strand as a first time read!

  2. This is really bizarre… I’ve been thinking of re-reading this. One of my fav- Du Maurier novels. I just pulled it off the shelf the other day.

    Have you read The King’s General?

  3. Wow. I really would not have expected to like this at all – am not a fan of du Maurier or time travel. If I saw that book on the library or bookshop shelf I wouldn’t go near it. But your description of it really piqued my interest, particularly the part about addiction and Dick’s struggles to know which direction to take in his life. I think I will read it after all. Just shows you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!

    • I like du Maurier but not time-travel. The parts that take place in 14th century Cornwall are far less compelling than the others, that’s for sure. But the addiction and the escape to another world were very well done.
      I felt very sorry for Vita. To a certain extent it’s also the sory of a double life.
      It’s quite fascinating. I hope you will like it and am curious to read what you think of it.
      I’ve have almost finished Hotschnig’s stories btw. I’m glad I read your review, I find them very unusual, very thought-provoking.

  4. I’m with you regarding time travel stories. Sometimes I find it compelling and sometimes not. You’ve made this novel sound quite compelling. I’ve never read Rebecca though so I think I’m going to tackle that one first.

  5. Wonderful review, Caroline! I haven’t heard of this book by Daphne du Maurier. It looks really wonderful from your description! I didn’t know that du Maurier wrote a novel on time travel 🙂 I will look for this book in my library.

    • Thanks, Vishy. I don’t think all that many poeple know or have read it, not even those who like du Maurier. Guy is one of the rare other people who seems to have read and liked it as well.

  6. The idea of time travelling fascinates me, although I wouldn’t choose the 14thc.

    I have My Cousin Rachel at home, I got it after Guy’s review. I loved Rebecca and enjoyed Jamaica Inn.

    I’m adding this one to the TBR, it sounds great. Thanks

    • I think my Cousin Rachel is the one I liked best. And this one. I have spoilt Rebecca by watching the movie. What I remember is the film, not the book. If time-travelling fascinates you, you might like this even more.
      Personally I’m not sure, if I had the opportunity, which century I would choose.

  7. I’ve read lots of du Maurier over time (favourites Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel) but I haven’t read this one. I’m fairly sure the time travel aspect was what made me leave it alone, but I’m much more intrigued now that you like it. Have you read The Scapegoat, btw? I remember that one as being odd and oddly compelling.

  8. Brilliant. Maybe this will be THE du Maurier read for me. So far I’ve found her books less than thrilling (although I haven’t read any of her really famous ones). I do want to try her again for RIP this year.

    • I hope it will be! But the really famous ones are not bad at all. The only book I didn’t like was Jamaica Inn. I even gave it away. A rare thing. This one messes with your head in an interestig way.

  9. You aren’t the first (and you probably won’t be the last) close blogging friend to make me feel bad that I’m still a Du Maurier novice, but I really loved the sound of this book even hough I’m not really into time travel vehicles either. Have a weird thing for the 14th century, though, and I like imagining how the addiction and jealousy angles might play out in this portrayal of a deteriorating marital relationship. Intriguingly bizarre!

    • Maybe it wasn’t the right time so far. And you could start with the wrong one. It seems as if Sarah wasn’t lucky in her choices.
      I cannot imagine she would not have liked Rebecca still I don’t necessarily think it’s her best.
      The Scapegoat really has great reviews. In any case I liked this one a lot.
      I also liked that she chose the 14th century, even earlier would have been interesting. Intriguingly bizarre is spot on.

  10. Ah … you have finished one book for RIP…I still haven’t start yet 😦 None of the book is my list has strong first pages and I am not in the mood for slow thrilling. Will go to the library soon and maybe reread Battle Royale for this challenge if I couldn’t find anything.

    I like a well done time travel but mosly in action. Judging from the comments above I am probably the only one that don’t find this book appealing. Maybe because I never like book or movie about addiction. But I still enjoy reading your review Caroline

    • Thanks, Novia. I’m not sure this would be for you, although you would love the ending. Really creepy. You have read Battle Royale before, no? Isn’t that the oe you said is better than The Hunger Games? I have got The Hunger Games, so will have to read it first. I need to stop buying books and read what I have.

      • I don’t know if it is better than Hunger Game as I refuse to read it…but those who have read both said so.

        Battle Royale is the kind of book I will reread again and again like Lord of the rings. I want to buy it but can’t find it yet 😦 Library is my only choice of rereading it.

  11. I think Daphne du Maurier is wonderful and have read a number of her books and quite a few short stories as well. I have actually heard some say that this is one of her best works, which I find interesting. Like you, it doesn’t appeal as much as her other books but I should know by now that in the hands of DdM it will be better than I think. I have to ditto Jenclair on Frenchman’s Creek (the movie wasn’t bad either from what I recall). I think I’ll have to read at least one of her stories for RIP. I thought of reading this, but I already have plenty on the go at the moment!

    • When you see a “Best of” of her books it is hardly ever mentoned but when you read what readers say, it is always among their favourites. I don’t think I will ever re-read Rebecca but might very well re-read this and My Cousin Rachel. It seems as if I should try Frenchman’s Creek and Scapegoat next. I also like her short stories a lot.

  12. I guess I just wasn’t expecting The House on the Strand to be what it was. I flew through it in a day (took the wrong bus home because I was so busy reading, I didn’t notice the bus I was getting on was completely empty instead of packed, as it should have been) but finished it somewhat underwhelmed. I felt that as a sci-fi book it was lacking, as historical fiction it was missing detail, and even as a more standard literary choice it was somewhat thin. It’s stuck with me, though, and I did very much enjoy reading it. Perhaps it’s just a very bad introduction to Daphne du Maurier?

    • It’s different from her other books. I liked it better than i expected because I’m neither keen on time travel nor on historical novels usually. I agree it’s neither sci-fi, nor historical novel, it’s also not literary fiction as such, it’s a blend of different things. I found it very engrossing. I didn’t exactly read it in one day but quite fast as well. If it made you take the wrong bus that’s proof that it is quite captivating.

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