The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier

Dick Young has always had an uneven relationship with scientist friend, Magnus Lane – he basically does what Magnus says, no matter how much he might grumble. So when Magnus offers him the use of his house in the English countryside and wants him to take a strange potion, Dick is quick to try the experiment which leads him to time travel into the lives of inhabitants of a 14th century village in Cornwall. The  potion has unforeseen side effects and each trip that he takes, leads to frightening consequences in the present.

I have only read Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier and I have to say that it is a shame that I hadn’t heard much about her other work. The House on the Strand piqued my curiosity with its time travel to 14th century Cornwall, and I was hooked from the start. Dick Young is a fascinating character. He is unhappily married, with the most bizarre set up imaginable. He has just ended his career in publishing and his American wife is urging him to join an American firm, and to come and live overseas, though he has no interest. He also has no interest in children and his wife has two boys from a previous marriage. Why these two have decided to marry is beyond anything that I could fathom, but it was a curious thing to see them both fret as much as they did over Dick’s relationship with Magnus Lane. (Hmm.  Draw what conclusions you will.)

Dick is hardly the most sympathetic character in the world. He is crotchety, peevish and can barely tolerate the wife who genuinely does seem to care about him, and though their life and Dick’s behavior toward her were a curious thing to consider, I was also fascinated by the science Du Maurier used to explore the time travel aspect, the escalating effects of the potion, and the richly rendered and complex lives of Richard, a 14th century steward in a lord’s household whom Dick follows on his travels, and smart cookie Lady Isolda and her married lover, among other people. Du Maurier definitely has the knack for constructing complex historical fiction that feels thoroughly researched, yet so vivid and real. I also loved that everything made sense according to her rules for the time travel world that she created.

Like Dick, I couldn’t wait to find out each piece of their story, and though Dick wasn’t as interested in his own life, I wanted to see how that would turn out as well. The House on the Strand is a compelling read to the last disturbing page.  I now know that I need to read all of Du Maurier’s books. She is just that good!  Highly recommended.

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