Alan's Reviews > The House on the Strand

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
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's review
Oct 10, 2008

really liked it
Recommended to Alan by: Clayton W.
Recommended for: Would-be time travelers
Read in March, 2010

It is a science fiction story without gadgets; a murder mystery where the killers and victims are all long dead; a ghost story where only the one doing the haunting is still alive. It is both a cozy domestic tale and a chilling horror novel. And, all the while, the tale is told quietly, in the even, measured tones of a sober English professional man. With all of this, it's no wonder that du Maurier's 1969 novel The House on the Strand is a widely-recognized classic.

Richard Young, on holiday in a borrowed house in Cornwall, is the man at the center of this story. The eyes through which we see are his. It's the late 1960s—drug "experimentation" may be at its height of public acceptance, but our man Dick has stayed away from all that... at least, until his school chum Magnus, something of a wizard biochemist (with a name just one letter away from magus) gives him a bottle labeled "Drink Me."

Heh... no, the bottle's just labeled "A." But when he partakes, the liquid inside wreaks at least as fundamental a transformation on Richard as any undergone by Alice. For the draught Magnus has given him takes Richard back in time.

Now, this is by no means the only use of such a science-fictional trope—Jack Finney's Time and Again, Richard Matheson's Bid Time Return (aka Somewhere in Time) and Connie Willis' Doomsday Book sprang immediately to my mind, anyway, when I saw where du Maurier was going with this—but it is a compelling one. And, just like the protagonists of those other books, Richard is captivated by the new older world in which he finds himself. Although he cannot affect the past—he is a mere observer—he is present witness to the most emotionally charged moments of those lives he sees, lives over and done with more than six hundred years before. His fascination with those bygone days, brought to such vivid life, is just like a drug, an addictive drug, even if the liquid itself weren't addictive... and soon, like any addict, Richard is making excuses to go back more and more, minimizing the dangers to himself and to others, and dissembling to his closest contemporaries.

And we are carried along with Richard—we, too, come to care about those 14th-Century intrigues as du Maurier brings them alive in front of us. We sympathize with Richard (though ever more reluctantly) as he scrambles for solitude, and repeatedly shrugs off his beloved wife and (step)children for one more dose.

Richard's choices along the way slide slowly, almost imperceptibly, from reasonable—indulging an old college friend? What could be wrong with that?—to unspeakable. And thanks to du Maurier, we are drawn along with him.

There are chills in this book, quiet ones perhaps, but chills nonetheless. Choose a warm and cozy fire to curl up in front of to read The House on the Strand.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Naomi V (new) - added it

Naomi V What a wonderful review! I read this book many years ago (early 70s) and remember loving it then. I even gave an oral book report on it, but I'm afraid that I only confused everybody. I have often wondered if it would hold up after these many years, and from your review I think it would. I'm going to re-read it in the near future. Thanks for the wonderfully written review.

Alan Hey, thanks for the kind words, Naomi! I had fun writing this one (more fun than usual, I mean)... glad you liked it!

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