Sunday, October 07, 2018
The House on the Strand
Posted by JaneGS
I've been meaning to reread Daphne Du Maurier's The House on the Strand for decades now, and so decided to make it my first book in the R.I.P. challenge this year.
I read it when I was in my teens, in the mid-70's, shortly after it was published in 1969, after reading Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel and being eager for more of DMM.
It wasn't the first time-travel book I had read, but it helped cement my love of the genre. In the intervening decades, I forgot most of how it works, with a couple of notable exceptions. I remembered that the first-person narrator, Dick Young, took drugs to voyage back to the 14th century, that it took place in Cornwall, and that Dick was invisible to the 14th people he encountered, but his body never actually left the 20th century. Oh yes, and encountering trains while tripping can be dangerous.
This time around, I found it utterly fascinating and my admiration for DMM's skills as storyteller of psychological thrillers knows no bounds. The way time travel works in The House on the Strand is that the drug transports the individual back to the physical location in which they are occupying, but centuries earlier, and then the person returns after the drug's effects fade or they touch a person of the distant past.
This time reading the book I found two aspects intriguing. First, the role of Magnus, Dick's friend from youth, who is a scientist and develops the drug and talks Dick into being his guinea pig. Magnus is definitely a Mephistopheles character who tempts Dick and enables his addiction to visiting the past, not only by providing the drug but also by supporting Dick's growing fascination with the world of the past by digging up the historical records on the various people he encounters, from his alter-ego in the other world, Roger, to the damsel in distress, Isolda, who he comes to love more than his 20th century wife. Magnus/Dick also sort of reminded me of Gatsby/Nick from The Great Gatsby. Dick, like Nick, is enthralled by the aura of the flashier, more confident, bigger than life Magnus/Gatsby, and becomes a pawn in a game he in no way understands.
Second, DMM leaves ambiguous whether Dick actually was able to travel back in time, at least in his head. The doctor who treats him near the end of the novel makes a convincing case that the drug is hallucinogenic and the trips are entirely figments of Dick's mind, with all the Freudian nooks and crannies creating the House on the Strand that Dick loves so much. However, Dick himself believes that time and space are not a continuum, and the drug enables him to inhabit both, one with his body and one with his mind. Because there is no way that Dick could've know the histories of the real people he encounters, DMM leaves that possibility open.
The ending reminded me of the ending of DMM's classic short story, Don't Look Now. The ending really leaves you breathless.
This was a perfect start to R.I.P. for me--chilling, spooky, ghostly, mysterious--everything I like in an October book.