Simon at Savidge Reads and Polly at Novel Insights are hosting Discovering Daphne this October, a whole month dedicated to Daphne du Maurier. This week the focus will be on The House on the Strand, a book I read last year and even included in my best of 2010 list. Below is an excerpt from my review.
From a blog post dated April 29, 2010:
Reading The House on the Strand reminded me why I love Daphne Du Maurier's writing so much. She's a wonderfully atmospheric author who can easily transport her reader to any time and place and the best example of this is probably her masterpiece, Rebecca, one of my favourite novels. Many of her books are set in Cornwall which for years has been on my list of places to visit one day. Maybe it's because of Daphne's descriptions of its beautiful, romantic and sometimes moody scenery.
The House on the Strand is another one of du Maurier's novels that's set in her beloved Cornwall. It's a time travel story about Dick Young, who's staying at the home of his scientist friend, Magnus. In fact, the house mentioned in the title is Kilmarth which was Daphne's home during the last decades of her life. It served as the inspiration for this novel because it was the home of Roger Kylman, a medieval steward in 1327. At the opening of the book, Dick has just tried an experimental drug invented by Magnus which allows its user to mentally travel back to fourteenth century Cornwall.
The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me that shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope. (page 1)
However, there's one catch in this particular time travel story - Dick is only a witness and is unable to be seen, heard or touched by the people he observes which include a steward called Roger and a captivating lady known as Isolda Carminowe. As Dick quickly becomes fascinated by their lives, he starts to withdraw from the modern world and his family and retreats more and more into the past. His time travel visits soon become an addiction that begin to affect not only his sanity but his physical condition.
This is a strange story but completely engrossing. I could understand Dick's fascination with the people he observed in his travels and the pull it had on his life and thus his addiction to the drug. The physical effects he experienced were believable - the loss of the sense of touch, enhanced sight, nausea and vertigo. Of course, the fact that both Magnus and Dick hallucinate about the same people and time period was pure fantasy but somehow du Maurier makes it all work and as a reader, it was easy to suspend disbelief and glide along with the story.