New Read: The House on the Strand

After loving My Cousin Rachel last summer, it felt right, back in June, to start this summer of reading with another of Daphne du Maurier’s wonderfully atmospheric novels. Taking recommendations from my fellow bloggers, I decided to read du Maurier’s 1969 novel, The House on the Strand next.

When Dick Young’s old friend, Magnus, offers him an escape to his country-pile of Kilmarth, on the Cornish coast for the summer holidays, Dick jumps at the chance. However there is a catch… Magnus also wants him to trial a new drug, a drug which transports Dick back to the wild, bleak Cornwall of the troublesome fourteenth century. Where Dick witnesses the intrigues of the local gentry, and becomes fixated on a horseman named Roger and the captivating Lady Isolde Carminowe. But soon Dick’s repeated trips see him withdrawing from the modern world and his family, and lead to some worrying and dangerous repercussions in the present.

After having previously only read novels by du Maurier set in the 1930s or earlier, it was a little disconcerting when I started reading this to hear mention of televisions and dishwashers! However this more modern, safe, comfortable setting is used to great effect as a clear juxtaposition to the wild, dangerous past that Dick travels back to. I must admit time travel was not something I would have ever linked with the gothic queen, du Maurier, but in fact she does it very well! Creating two gripping time lines which I was equally invested in – a precursor/inspiration perhaps for those newer dual narrative novels by Susanna Kearsley and others that I enjoy so much.

That being said, Dick is not the most likeable of characters, especially with the indifference and sometimes even contempt he treats his wife and stepsons with. As the terrible consequences of Dick’s addiction start to unfold it was them I truly felt for and Magnus: Dick’s long-lasting friendship with whom is about his only endearing feature. Like Dick though I did feel for and found myself rooting for Roger and Isolde in the past. Which made for double tension! Hauntingly I watched as Dick was powerless to help them as their fate was revealed, while I myself was powerless to stop him.

Now this wouldn’t be a review of a du Maurier novel without mentioning her ever vivid and realistic portrayal of the Cornish coast, that, like in many of her novels, is as important as a character in its own right. In the modern day, I was able to immerse myself in long summer days of sailing, fishing and picnics. While, in stark contrast, in the fourteenth century we go through all the seasons: from Isolde’s children riding on a sunny day, to a ship floundering in a storm and deep snow trapping everyone indoors. Although some of the houses have come and gone, the only big (ominous) change to the landscape is the railway cutting through the land in the present day.

All in all, I thought The House on the Strand was a superb, time-travelling horror, that had me gripped from beginning to end. Not as great as Rebecca but definitely a contender for my top ten reads of this year. I look forward to reading even more from du Maurier – I have Frenchman’s Creek and The Loving Spirit on my shelf to choose from next. Great read.

Have you read this? What do you think I should read next?

This is book 1/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

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22 thoughts on “New Read: The House on the Strand

  1. Excellent review Jessica! I am so looking forward to this one. Was there anything Du Maurier couldn’t do? As it was published in 1969, she was keeping right up with the times on the drug taking but keeping her foot in the old world with the time travel. Amazing!

    1. Thank you Judy 😀 Glad you enjoyed my review so much! And ooo I’d never thought of that: ‘she was keeping right up with the times on the drug taking but keeping her foot in the old world with the time travel’; but yes I agree that is amazing!

  2. You have given me a great feel of what to expect when reading this novel. I have several du Maurier novels waiting in my Kindle. I had hoped this year would be the one I started reading her, but as usual, I requested more ARCS than I knew what to do with. In all likelihood, if all goes according to plan, I will be reading one or two novels of hers next year. 😉

  3. I’ve only ever read one du Maurier novel, REBECCA, and I did that reluctantly. Of course, I ended up loving REBECCA and telling myself I would need to read more du Maurier “soon.” But “soon” is never soon, you know? I’ve heard a lot about MY COUSIN RACHEL, so that’s probably the one I’ll tackle next (which could mean in a year, or ten years, who knows?), but this one sounds interesting, too. Have you read a lot of du Maurier? Do you have any suggestions on reading order?

    1. Adam, I have read four of du Maurier’s novels: Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, My Cousin Rachel and this. I have also read two of her short story collections: The Birds and Other Stories and The Doll: The Lost Short Stories. Although I have loved them all, my favourite is definitely Rebecca followed very closely by My Cousin Rachel, so I think that might be a great one for you to read next.

  4. This is one of my favourite du Mauriers so I’m pleased to hear you enjoyed it! I really loved the way she handled the time travel element. Of the other two books you have on your shelf, I would recommend reading Frenchman’s Creek next, but The Loving Spirit is good as well.

    1. Helen, I can see how this is one of your favourite du Maurier’s – I also loved how she cleverly handled the time travel element. And thank you for the recommendation, because of yours and other readers thoughts I am definitely thinking Frenchman’s Creek should be my next du Maurier.

  5. You’ve convinced me to add this to my wish list. I read Rebecca decades ago and My Cousin Rachel, maybe ten years ago, enjoying both very much. This sounds excellent!

  6. Great review- I’m even more excited to read this now! I haven’t read The Loving Spirit, but Frenchman’s Creek was a lot of fun. Hope you enjoy whichever du Maurier novel you pick up next!

  7. I think the time travelling element has always put me off this book. But you make it sound very appealing. Du Maurier does write about Cornwall so well.

    1. Ali, I think you might be okay with the time travel in this because it is more like visions: Dick can witness the past but can neither be seen, heard or be involved with what is going on. No time machines, trying to blend in, disturbing history or any other ‘suspend belief’ elements! 😀

  8. I really enjoyed this one too and like you was completely disconcerted with the existence of the modern world. The aspect of the drug also was a new element in the equation that made of this novel a really good read for me.

  9. Glad you enjoyed it, Jessica – D du Maurier is one of my inspirations – I love all the novels – have you tried the Scapegoat? Now there is a mc you could engage with…

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