Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review -- The House on the Strand

The House on the StrandThe House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
My enjoyment rating: 2 of 5 stars
Book source:  personal copy
Genre: Classic fiction
Objectionable material: none

Nothing like having your best friend use you as a science experiment.

But that’s exactly what happens to Dick Young. He’s been asked by his long time college buddy (now scientist), Mangus Lane, to imbibe on a potion he’s created to transport him back in time. Mangus himself has taken several “trips” to the 14th century…now he needs confirmation from another source to confirm the secrets to his elixir.

Things initially go smoothly for Dick: he drinks the mixture; transports back to Cornwall of 1335; follows around a group of ancient Cornwallians (I hope that’s what you would call someone from Cornwall!); learns that one in the group, Roger Kylmarth, was the first inhabitant of Mangus’s cottage; also that there is some philandering going on within this group – and then – without much effort – he transports back to the present day.

It becomes quite a bit more complicated when Dick’s wife, Vita, shows up and he has to explain to her his absences and odd behavior. She’s not too willing to accept his recent interest in 14th century history. Regardless of Vita’s concern, Dick decides he really gets his kicks and giggles out of his new found hobby, even if he is becoming more aggressive, starts loosing feeling in his extremities, and sweats all the time.

Then Mangus takes a “trip” of his own and the time travel experiment completely unravels. And not in a good way.

This was one of the strangest books I’ve ever read!  And I love Dame DuMaurier! But this was a huge struggle.

I’ve read time travel books before – but never back to the 14th century – where I have absolutely no context for time or historical participants (i.e. 16th century = Henry VIII).

Also, I was confused from the moment DuMaurier introduced her 14th century characters until the last page: I could never figure out their relationship with one another, why they were conflicted, who was sleeping with whom – and she even provided a genealogy tree in the preface to help the reader – but it was of no help whatsoever. At least to me.

The present day story line was easier to follow, but not by much: All of the locales Dick visited to begin his trips started with Tre --- Treesmill, Treverran, Trevenna – I couldn’t keep them straight. Also Vita, Dick’s wife, was plain annoying (would it have to do with the fact that she was an American?). Every time she entered the narrative, I cringed.

The one upside to this book: DuMaurier is a complete genius in creating a sense of “place” that I was swept away in the locale of Cornwall – the beaches, the farms, the villages – I think her narrative was the only thing that kept me going.

All in all, not an enjoyable read…but I will continue to adore Dame Daphne DuMaurier.

*House on the Strand was written as an homage to her estate in Cornwall, Kilmarth.