Jan 2, 2015

The House on The Strand by Daphne Du Maurier

I am never able to determine which is my favourite book by Daphne Du Maurier ; the famous Rebecca or the not so famous The House on The Strand. Incidentally , My Cousin Rachel scores very high in my list of favourites too.  However The House on The Strand has a special place in my heart, possibly because like its protagonist, I would love to disappear into another world whenever I wished, my physical surroundings notwithstanding. 

In my opinion, the best review and insight of the book is actually provided by Celia Brayfield's introduction. So if you are reading the book for the very first time, you should start off with the story and return to the introduction at the very end. Celia provides a wonderful understanding of the characters, the context in which Du Maurier had shaped the events, characters and the story. And of course it's fun to compare notes at the end. 

The story starts off with a description of Tywardreath in the fourteenth century which looks similar to the current day country land around Kilmarth to protagonist Dick Young. The conflicts start off early in the book. Sometimes it is the shape of the land and what existed on it or didn't and some times it is about Dick's internal struggles to come to terms with his professional failure and the fact that he might have to accept wife's help and offer to work in America. Hence it is not surprising that Dick gladly accepts his old friend and successful research scientist Magnus Lane's offer to test out couple of experimental drugs. Very similar to medieval dream poetry where there is a guide for the central character, Dick ends up with one named Roger Kylmerth. He is a horseman with considerable authority, to Sir Henry Champernoune and his evil wife Joanna. Every time Dick experiments with a recommended drug from Magnus, he ends waking up in Roger's vicinity.  And he sees the medieval world of Tywardreath through Roger's eyes albeit a guide's eyes. 

While Dick is glad to lose himself in the world of nobility, politics of the fourteenth century, he gets too involved and addicted to the goings on due to his softness for a certain Lady Isolda Carminowe or " a lass unparalleled, who alas would never look at me ". In his waking hours, Dick is enthused into researching the village, finding old buildings that survived from the fourteenth century and looking up old records of landowners. He finds historical records and hence proof of existence of the Priory and people that he had seen during his visions. His visionary world seems more real, and his addiction is fuelled by Magnus's own interests albeit selfish ones. 

Magnus has an unwavering hold over Dick and the latter's attraction is mixed with confused adoration and willingness to be "suggestible" as Magnus describes him. Unfortunately for Dick, the events going on in his own life like the arrival of his wife and kids for spending the summer seem rather  dreary to him. So much so that when "the telephone began to ring, sounding , in its insistency, like a summons from a lost, unwanted world " Dick lets it ring. Bad decisions continue and Dick tries to make excuses, cook up stories to keep his family at bay with disastrous consequences. 

With numerous experiments, the physical toll of the drugs and the two worlds start taking a toll on Dick. He starts confusing between the two worlds and things go behind control when Dick is unable to give an explanation for his presence or absence as well as his unpredictable behaviour. Unfortunately for Dick, things are not hunky dory in his other world too. Lady Isolda's jealous husband murders her lover Sir Otto Bodrugan and Magnus decides that things in fourteenth century are too interesting to let Dick take the trip alone. He plans for a visit to Kilmarth but mysteriously dies in an incident implicating Dick as a consequence. After a lot of trouble, investigations , the appearance of an astute Dr. Powell and an inherited house,  Dick is finally at peace and  free of the need of visiting  the medieval word of the fourteenth century in his visions, but only because his guide, Roger Kylmerth has died . Of course whether Dick would physically be free of the effects of his numerous visits to Tywardreath is something that future can tell. 

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