Sunday, September 12, 2010

The House on the Strand

"Am I my brother's keeper? Cain's cry of protest against God suddenly had new meaning for me as I watched the hands of the clock move towards ten past three. Roger was my keeper, I was his. There was no past, no present, no future. Everything living is part of the whole. We are all bound, one to the other, through time and eternity, and, our senses once opened, as mine had been opened by the drug, to a new understanding of his world and mine, fusion would take place, there would be no separation, there would be no death...This would be the ultimate meaning of the experiment, surely, that by moving about in time death would be destroyed."

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier has a very intriguing concept: time-travel (of a sort) via hallucinogenic drugs. If I understand the concept properly, the mixture which Professor Magnus Lane has concocted awakens the the memories of the past which are carried in our cells (I would imagine in the DNA). For whatever reason, it brings the past of the 14th Century alive for both Professor Lane and his guineau pig, Richard Young. Richard has always been influenced by Magnus (ever since they were at school together) and falls in with his plans to test this "amazing new potion." Richard finds himself drawn into the lives of various members of the 14th Century and, having become disillusioned with his own life just prior to the events of the story, also finds himself more and more reluctant to take part in the activities of the here and now. The story climaxes with events that manage to mix the past and the present with all-too terrible results.

This story starts with a bang. Du Maurier takes you straight to the heart of the matter...time travel and her opening descriptions set the scene where all the action--both past and presnt--will take place. The Cornish countryside is beautifully described and soon becomes central to the story. Her descriptions of the the effects of the drug are also very apt. It places the traveler in an almost dream-like state with no real sensations of touch (Richard feels no cold in the middle of winter for instance) and yet all other senses are heightened--particularly sight. The blues of the sky and water seem more vivid. The grass and the trees seem much more alive.

I found myself very caught up in the story--wanting to find out what happened to Roger and Isolda, Sir John and Joanna, and all the others in the 14th Century. The story does lag a bit in the middle, but it is well worth it to stay the course to the end. The final action bears quite a twist and leaves the reader with questions. Not vital questions that the author should have answered, but questions that keep the reader thinking about the story. I think that is the mark of a very good writer.

Comparisons have been made to H.P. Lovecraft and gothic horror. I wouldn't say that is accurate. Some of the descriptions of the 14th Century may seem a bit harsh, but there is nothing of the horror genre about it. I would liken it more to H. G. Wells than Lovecraft.

Three and a half stars out five on Visual Bookshelf (I'm again subtracting a bit for the lag in the middle).


Chrisbookarama said...

I liked this one too when I read it. It's a very interesting concept and I liked how the MC got addicted to going back in time.

Jessica said...

oh this one sounds really good, I might make this my next Du Maurier read.

J.G. said...

Congrats on meeting your Birth Year Reading Challenge goal! I've posted your last candle and will e-mail you the list of books you can choose your prize from.

If you want to do a wrap-up post, I'll link that to the BYR progress page. It's totally optional, though.

Thanks for participating! Hope you had fun!