Hi everyone! So ,some people probably know this or took part in it, but the 13th May was the start of Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week. Between my visit to London and attempting to write coherent reviews for the Women’s Prize shortlist before the winner was announced, I haven’t had the time to write a review of the Du Maurier book I read (or, in this case, reread) The House on the Strand. We follow Dick Young, who has recently given up his job and gone to visit his friend Magnus’ house in Cornwall (it’s Daphne Du Maurier – where else is it going to be?!) It turns out Magnus would like Dick to try out a new drug he has developed, one which helps people to time travel. Dick slowly becomes addicted to the drug and the people who lived in the house centuries before, in particular Roger and Isolda. However, his wife Vita and stepsons soon show up to the house and become worried by his increasingly bizarre behaviour…
When I first read The House on the Strand nearly a decade ago, I didn’t know what to think of it. I remember thinking this was the most original time travel novel I had ever read; which I still believe today. In a way it predates virtual reality but sort of alludes to it; being able to see into the past but having your body firmly rooted in the present. It is such a unique and fun concept that I could have read a much longer novel about it. This split echoes Dick’s own predicament in his personal life; he is trapped between two worlds. Not only between the past and present, but between staying in the UK or emigrating to the USA (where Vita is originally from); neither of which he wants to do. The time travel element is so brilliantly constructed and executed that it still blew me away years later.
The characters as well are so incredibly written. All people past and present were given their storyline and arcs, though admittedly I always enjoyed the dynamic between Dick, Magnus, and Vita the most. The friendship between the two men is endlessly fascinating; Magnus seems to be the more dominant of the two whilst Dick is more passive, which is also the relationship between Vita and Dick. You’re also left questioning if their friendship was anything more than that, which opens up a different interpretation of the novel and makes The House on the Strand very re-readable. You can get something new every time you pick it up. Originally years ago, I didn’t like Vita; now as I’ve grown up I definitely sympathise with her. By contrast, Dick frustrates me more – which his character is supposed to do, and I still sometimes relate to him a bit too much. But they are portrayed so well, you’re able to understand both perspectives and see the flaws and strengths in them.
The House on the Strand is one of my favourite Du Maurier novels, because not only do you get great characters, stunning imagery, and an amazing story that you find in all of her books, but I find it the most playful. Is it historical fiction or is it sci-fi? It falls into both categories. Du Maurier also looks at drug addiction and the effects it has on people and their families. There is even a romance element to it. She has combined so many genres and themes, but is able to blend them all together effortlessly, creating a truly unique novel. It also has a brilliant, ambiguous ending which makes me want to go back to the beginning and read it all over again. It won’t be for everyone, but The House on the Strand stands among her finest works for me. And given how much I love Rebecca and Jamaica Inn that’s saying something.
The House on the Strand is published by Virago and you can find more information here.