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'The House on the Strand' is a novel written by Daphne Du Maurier. This was another book I picked up a few months back from my university's book market, as I'd read another novel by Du Maurier some time ago called 'Flight of the Falcon' which I'd enjoyed immensely. With the blurb having premise of a drug resulting in time travel, from then on I was captivated!
Dick Young is a young man living in Cornwall who, despite having a promising job offer abroad, a lovely wife and stepchildren he's fond of, is somewhat frustrated with life. His friend from university Magnus Lame, now a well-respected professor, offers him the opportunity to test out a new drug as a potential escape. However, this drug is an unusual one in that it transports the user back in time- to 14th century Cornwall.
After his first trip is a success, Dick agrees to help Magnus test the drug many more times for his research, taking place at his manor which he stays at for a few weeks. Each time he visits the Manor and surrounding area of Tywardreath in the past, he encounters the Carminowe family and other various characters mixed in their affairs as time moves on. But the more Dick is captivated by the past brought by the drug, the more he becomes distant from reality. Will Dick's addiction bring disaster to not only his family and friends, but also himself?
I admit that 'The House on the Strand' was not quite what I expected. To me, I thought that Dick really does travel back in time and that the past and present would connect with the people of Tywardreath coming into present-day Cornwall, or creating an alternative present a la 'Back to the Future 2'...yes that my own fantasy trip going overboard here.
Rather, Du Maurier is much more concerned with our main character's usage of the drug and its influence on real-life behaviour, leading to near (and at some points, actual) disasters involving him or the other characters. There are points when the after effects of these trips hit the reader hard, not only because our main character has lost his connection to the extraordinary past he is envisaging, but also at some points his own life or that of others is under threat (e.g. hitting a physical object in the real world takes you out of the trip very suddenly). Dick's story is told in 1st person narrative so we sympathize more with his unsatisfying reality and desire for the new drug more than if it was in 3rd, especially when Dick begins compare present actions of family and acquaintances to the more ideal people in the past. This is helped by the first chapter jumping straight into Dick's first trip, not his backstory or how he takes the drug- a vivid, atmospheric description of the changed landscape, everything that Dick has heard about from Magnus and now can see himself. Scenes like this come throughout the book when Dick transitions between the past and present and it really conveys the Cornish landscapes perfectly, especially to someone who has rarely been down so far South like myself!
Dick Young presents himself as an insecure person who's not as a happy as a man with a good upbringing, prospects and family life should be, and these problems manifest further as he tries to withdraw into the adventures of 14th century Tywardreath. His friend Magnus is also an interesting character- Dick never meets him in person throughout the duration of the book but his personality is that of an excitable, inquisitive and much more influential man. He is more than just exposition regarding the drug but provides some comic relief and is a more vibrant person than our narrator, plus he is the only other character in the book that knows what Dick's up to and why. The other characters of the 'real world' aren't as well-developed or likeable. For instance I didn't like Dick's wife Vita as she came across as especially nagging and interfering despite her best intentions for her husband, but in retrospect I think this is may be due to our unreliable narrator's way of gaining our sympathy for him seeking solace with the drug. The people of Tywardreath on the other hand are even more intriguing and full of life than those of reality as Dick experiences their lives as an unlikely witness. By the end of the book, I was sad to see Dick part with these characters of the past as he does, but even those final scenes finish on an unlikely note and show us the extent Dick becomes involved with lives which are not his to share.
The only thing I felt missing was that the science behind Dick's drug use isn't explained very well. The final chapter does explain the reality to Dick and the reader, but the fact that Dick gets transported to a specific time period, witnessing figures whom he didn't know about beforehand taking the drug, sounds somewhat implausible. I doubt Daphne Du Maurier went into the scientific facts of how this drug would work that much, plus she conveys how the drug acts so well it isn't otherwise a problem. How these scenes make their way into Dick's brain should've been explained better, and perhaps the trips would've made more sense if Dick did in fact have a connection with the families involved in Tywardreath (e.g. been an ancestor etc).
'The House on the Stand' was a very enjoyable book that had a brilliant narrative and through blending science fiction with a look at the human dependency on drugs. I enjoyed it as much as 'Flight of the Falcon' though considering that's the only other Du Maurier work I've read your opinion may vary as to how it compares to her classics. Despite a dated feel (book is set in the 60s when it was written) I think that due to the nature of the story it's very accessible and it's a short read (my copy is circa 350 pages) to sink your teeth into!
You can find a paperback copy for £5.19 on Amazon, but is available much cheaper used, so I'd suggest shopping around for second hand copies.
(Review also on Ciao under the username Anti_W)