Sorry for the delay with my thoughts on ‘The House on the Strand’ the third in the Discovering Daphne readalongs. This was a book that I didn’t struggle with exactly but one which needed patience and some effort (no bad thing) for me as a reader to work through. No book should be rushed but some books ask so many questions that you need the odd break to let your head catch up with it all. This is a prime example of such a novel and Daphne taxed me and tested me with this book and I admire her all the more for it, even if I didn’t come away from the book loving it I certainly appreciated it.
Dick Young is a man who finds himself caught between two times in ‘The House on the Strand’, and I mean that literally. As he stays in his old friends house, a scientist called Magnus Lane, he starts taking a drug Magnus has created which transports him to the same place only in the 1300s. I have to admit I was instantly really drawn in initially. I was excited by where Du Maurier would take this concept and therefore me along with her.
As the novel goes on Dick almost becomes addicted to this travelling. Even though as his body stays in the present he ends up hurting himself or getting stuck as some walls didn’t exist back then. (I was surprised Daphne didn’t make more use of this for the darkly comical actually having read her other works.) As his wife Vita and her children join him from America they take him away from this addiction, yet is it in fact escapism from a marriage that might be failing and even unwanted along with the person he is in the present?
Whilst I loved the idea behind the book it’s main flaw for me was not the idea of time travel but the setting in the 1300s. I wasn’t really interested in his time travelling or the people he met, a sometimes too wide cast of charcters including Lady Isolda and a man servant called Roger. I was much more interested in the why. So weirdly the hopping back and forth started to slightly frustrate me as, to my mind at least, the main crux of the novel was very much in the present.
I do find whatever Daphne writes you know there will be both the twists and turns (which arrive just in time in this book thankfully) and also the deeper and yet subtle undertones. For me this book had a lot to say about sexuality and acceptance of the self. Maybe that sounds a bit grand? I didn’t think Dick wanted to be married and in fact thought the closeness he shared with Magnus when younger and the reverberating remnants of all that said a lot without ever been overtly written about or forced in the reader too much. Sometimes it is what Daphne doesn’t say… Or could I just have been looking for it?
I was strangely reminded of my dabblings with Iris Murdoch in this book. She too dealt with sexuality, philosophical themes and the metaphysical, all which also run through ‘The House on the Strand’. It tested me, but so it should. I also liked the slight gothic scientific elements of the book. Was it me or are there hints of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ and ‘Frankenstein’ here?
I cannot pretend this is my favourite Daphne Du Maurier ‘story’ because I think there is so much more going on in this book (not that there isn’t in all her books, this one just seems more overt and blatant) indeed partly because of where she found her life at the point she wrote this and how she dealt with it explains alot and that to me this novel is almost like a look into the exorcising of her mind and that fascinated me. I felt I got to know her a little more through the complexity of this book, is that odd?
‘The House on the Strand’ is a real mixture and not just because of the questions it raises, or the themes it looks at, it’s also a mix of historical, philosophical and borders on the edges of science fiction. It’s quite unlike any books of hers, or indeed in general, that I have read so far. It might not be a book to curl up with and get lost in (which was the expectation I had set, so I could be at fault for that assumption hence finding the book all the more difficult in parts) it’s a book to sit down with and get you thinking, it just needs some patience and mutual hard work. Some of the best books do that though don’t they? Even if we don’t enjoy them as the escapism we hoped for, we enjoy them for the experience they give us and the questions we have to look at. I will be thinking about this book, and all it raised, for quite some time.
You can see Polly of Novel Insights thoughts on it here.