The House on the Strand
By Daphne du Maurier
Why this book?
I love the idea of time travel – if it’s backwards. I have no desire to see what things might be, only I’m constantly fascinated wondering how things were. When I visit an historic house full of antique furniture and ancient portraits hanging on the walls, weird objects whose use is now forgotten, I long to know what it was like to live there. The House on the Strand transported me into the distant past of medieval England in such a way that I was living the experience, just like the time traveller himself.
There are numerous devices for spiriting someone into the past, in this novel it is a scientific experiment, involving taking a drug. The protagonist is Richard Young, and he becomes entranced by the lives of people who lived 600 years ago. When Richard time travels, he becomes ‘attached’ to Roger, a steward. Roger is the link. The two men are quite similar, and each time Richard returns to the past, Roger seems to be acting as his guide. No one can see the modern Richard so he is always an observer who cannot affect any events he witnesses, though he desperately wants to.
What I particularly enjoyed about this novel is how the past becomes both more real and more important to Richard, than the present. Richard (and Roger, the steward) fall in love with Isolda whom Roger is trying to help escape from an unhappy marriage. An interesting aspect of this time travel book is that Richard must take mind-altering drugs to journey into the past and they have side effects; indeed, it is never clear if Richard is really experiencing the past or the drugs are causing hallucinations. He’s warned to stop, but how can he? He must find out what happens to Isolda… He must take one last trip.
If you’ve ever been to Cornwall, you will also appreciate that Daphne du Maurier writes so evocatively about the landscape that you can see it.
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