The House on the Strand, by Daphne du Maurier, may just be one of the most original books I’ve ever read! But, what makes it such a good choice?
I’m sure you’ve heard me say it time and time again, but Daphne du Maurier is a genius. After reading Rebecca, then My Cousin Rachel, next on the agenda was the lesser known The House on the Strand. This one is rarely mentioned by fans, but I found it tucked away in a hidden shelf in one of my local Waterstones.
After reading the blurb, which told of a historical world, brought to life by a drug-induced stupour, I thought it sounded very interesting. I certainly wasn’t wrong there and, although it took me a while to get into it, I was eventually hooked.
So, to discover more about one of Daphne du Maurier’s lesser-known novel, and to hear whether it’s worth the read, read on…
The House on the Strand Characters
We’ll start off by introducing our very small pool of main characters, who lay the scene of our story. These include:
- Richard/Dick: our main character; a middle-aged man, with an addictive personality, who rarely thinks of anyone but himself.
- Magnus: the allusive scientist, and Dick’s best friend, who Dick spends each and every waking moment trying to impress.
- Vita: Dick’s disapproving wife, which is no surprise, considering the way she is treated by her selfish and inconsiderate husband. She is very skeptical of Magnus, and makes fun of Dick’s dependence on him.
- Vita’s two boys: these are Dick’s step children, who love hanging around in the Cornwall house they find themselves in for their summer holiday.
Although there are a couple more characters who crop up here and there, these are the ones who the plot mainly revolve around. What I should also mention about these characters are that they are our real-life ones, living in the 1960s world. But, we are greeted by plenty more where that came from, who aren’t quite of our time…
The House on the Strand Plot
We begin with Dick, our protagonist, who is staying in Kilmarth House – where du Maurier spent many a happy decade during her own life. In this story, however, Kilmarth belongs to the crazy professor, Magnus, who is in the process of creating his own drug.
Our opening scene contains a vivid description of the Cornwall setting, through the eyes of Dick, after taking drug B. As an audience, we have absolutely no clue what’s in these drugs, we only know that they somehow transport the user to a 14 century landscape.
This other world is all the user can see, yet they still walk in the present time. So, where the user might envisage a large courtyard in a monastery, their body is, in fact, walking around a complete ruin.
As an audience, it is never quite clear how this magical drug transports the user to this 14th century world, or whether it is simply a very detailed hallucination. All we know, is that the goings on back in time seem remarkably close to what occurred in the historical documents Dick and Magnus soon unearth. So, much like Dick, who becomes ever-more-so drawn to the events of the other world, we too believe it to be true.
Dick spends the first section of our novel going back and forth to wanting to take the drug, and not. He is frustrated at Magnus, who seems to be using him like a lab rat, yet he can’t seem to stop…
When Vita arrives at Kilmarth from America, with her children, she is disconcerted to find Dick rather withdrawn from her. He certainly makes an effort to make them feel at home here, and sets up fun activities for them to do. But, throughout the story, Dick sneaks off on multiple occasions to take the drug, dragging his body through the Cornish moors, and causing suspicion at every turn.
**SPOILERS BEGIN HERE**
As the events spiral out of control in our 14th century, drug-induced world, Dick slowly loses touch with reality. He begins to get the two worlds confused, and slips up multiple times, divulging tales about 14th-century events to unsuspecting real-world people.
That said, the real turning point occurs when lives are lost, and not just in our historical world. When the drug causes more loss than we originally suspected, Dick’s life spirals into chaos. And, when you think it’s all over, and you can breathe a sigh of relief, your relief is well and truly scuppered…
**SPOILERS END HERE**
My Thoughts on Daphne du Maurier’s Most Original Story
As I mentioned briefly in the introduction, I first struggled to get into this book, which was strange, considering I’m such a huge fan of du Maurier’s work. On reflection, I don’t think this had anything to do with the book itself though, but more to do with my own lack of focus, what with everything happening during this April 2020.
That said, once I had made a small dent in the first few chapters, I absolutely could not put it down. When the story really picked up, there were twists and turns I least expected; certainly some shocks to the system, that’s for sure. When I thought it couldn’t get any more eventful, something unexpected occurred.
But, nothing compares to the ending of the story, which left me dying for more…
I’ve called this Daphne du Maurier’s most original book, from what I’ve read of hers so far. That said, the more I think and write about it, the more I decide that it’s probably one of the most original books I’ve ever read, fullstop!
Never before have I experienced the feeling I felt when I turned the final page. The ending was one of the biggest cliff-hangers I have experienced to date. So much so, that I merrily turned the page to read more – as you do when you’re mindlessly reading – and was horrified to find that there were no more words left to read.
All in all, the story was unlike anything I’ve read before and, for a historian, the perfect mix between modern life and a historical world. The little hint of the Black Death near the end was the perfect spooky element of catharsis I needed during the Coronavirus lockdown.
Considering I haven’t stopped thinking about this book since I put it down, well over a month ago now, I would say that’s the sign of a fantastic page-turner. So, would I recommend it? Absolutely.
Fancy Reading it Too?
So, those are my thoughts on The House on the Strand. Overall, I’d say it was a truly original work, and certainly an underrated work at that! Having never experienced plot twists and an ending like it, I think I’ll be thinking about this one for a long while to come…
As you can see, my personal pledge to read at least a book a month this year has been truly successful. We started with My Cousin Rachel, moved to the very tricky The Woman in White, then onto the much easier Rush of Blood, and now The House on the Strand.
I have a couple of Daphne du Maurier books left up my sleeve, but I’ve decided to take a little break, and read some more easygoing books for now. On writing this blog post, I’ve also read The Beekeeper’s Promise and Fat Chance (reviews to come soon). So, stay tuned for the book reviews of these other April picks in due course.
Otherwise, back to The House on the Strand… if you’ve read this gripping book yourself, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Would you agree that it’s a close second to Daphne du Maurier Rebecca, or perhaps you think it’s her best work? Or, even better, maybe this review has inspired you to read it; let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear your thoughts!