Saturday, 30 November 2013

The House on the Strand by Daphne DuMaurier

I have never been quite so surprised by a book as The House on the Strand.  Not only by the story itself but by my enjoyment of it.  I was literally having to force myself to put it down at night or I wouldn't have slept at all until I finished.

The story begins with mystery and continues throughout to build until the first mysteries are revealed but another has been formed.  The themes fall into the category of "Journey", both personally for the main character and into the past.  Addiction, obsession, love - that's how some have described it.  I probably wouldn't have read it if you'd told me that's what it's about (although it is in part) but it's more than that - it's about the power of science, the risks of exploration of any kind, self discovery, faithfulness, loosing yourself, friendship.

The story centres around an experimental drug that enables the main character, Dick Young, to view the past - specifically the 14th Century past of the part of Cornwall where he is staying.  He gets increasingly drawn into that world, and as a reader I found myself in the same predicament as him - emerging from the book struggling to remember exactly what was fiction and what was my reality as I look around me.  This, I think, is the power of good fiction generally - wondering why the sun is shining when you were just in the middle of a blizzard in your mind.  The intense power of the drug transports Dick into the past in a way that becomes more real than the present although he can only watch and any attempt to interact with the past brings him abruptly back to the present.

A master at work, the story has pace and originality.  The characters are described in such a sympathetic way that I felt myself sharing the author's obvious affection for them all, with all their flaws and struggles.  The shift from past to present throughout the novel is refreshing, keeping my interest in each parallel story and I didn't feel frustrated as I do sometimes with other books that jump between worlds in this way

I would highly recommend the book to anyone who likes a very human mystery.
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