Wednesday, July 13, 2016
The House on the Strand
First sentence: The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me that shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope.
Premise/plot: Richard Young, the hero of Daphne du Maurier's The House on the Strand, becomes a guinea pig for his scientist friend, Magnus, while vacationing in Cornwall. Magnus has concocted a hallucinogenic drug that allows the user to time travel, though not physically. While Dick's first 'time-travel' experience has its downsides, he enjoys it just enough to keep taking the drug in different locales. Why different locales? Because location matters. Your body may stay in the present, but, your consciousness is far, far away. And your body-and-mind act together. Your mind sees the world as it was. Your body experiences it as it is. Whatever you're doing in the past, you're doing in the present--sitting, standing, walking, running, etc. Readers DON'T see this, of course, just the results and consequences. You may sit down and take the drug in one place, and come back to reality hours later miles and miles away with no real idea of how you got there.
The past is the fourteenth century. The 1320s through the 1340s. Dick is an invisible presence in the past. He can "spy" on the past and follow people around, seeing and hearing plenty that interests him. He becomes very caught up in the lives of Isolda and Roger. (They are not a couple.) The past is full of soap opera like DRAMA.
The present is the 1960s. Dick is married to a woman, Vita, who has two sons. His wife and two stepsons join him on his vacation. He's not excited about that. Why? He really, really, really, really likes taking this mind-altering drug. And he fears that if he's surrounded by his family he might have to be responsible and stay in the present.
The drama isn't all in the past, a few things happen in the present that are just as exciting. Particularly when Magnus comes to visit his friend...
My thoughts: Dick isn't the smartest hero. Perhaps he trusts his friend a LITTLE too much. Or perhaps the sixties were so truly different that taking mind-altering drugs was something you did without blinking--without giving it a second thought. What am I doing to my mind? what am I doing to my body? Are there any side-effects? Are the side-effects longlasting? Is this a good idea?
The book chronicles Dick's adventures in past and present. And the world-building is strong in both. Characterization. I can't say that the characterization was super strong. This is more premise-driven than character-driven. But there's enough drama and mystery to keep you reading.
Science fiction doesn't come to mind when I think about Daphne du Maurier, but, I must say that you can definitely see her unique style in all of it. Especially the ending.
Did I like it? I didn't LOVE it, but, I definitely am glad I read it.
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews