The House on the Strand
Daphne du Maurier
A long time ago, in a country far far away, there were library booksales. At one of these heavens I saw a book called The Scapegoat, intriguing because I had just finished a thesis which dealt with the idea of scapegoating. As it was fifty cents, I bought it. And so was caught by the brilliance of Daphne du Maurier.
The Scapegoat will probably always be my favorite, but The House on the Strand throws open a vaguely uncanny realm of possibility, thrusts you into it, and closes the door behind. Specifically, the psychological relationship between the past and present. Do we carry latent common memories with ancestors? If aroused, what would those memories tell us? Would active knowledge of them change our present behavior? Professor Lane, a brilliant biologist, has concocted a drug which opens the old world to his long-time friend Richard Young, who is eager for new experience with which to replace the pasty dissatisfaction of a midlife crisis.
There is never any question as to whether these characters are real; they walk in my memory as vividly as my college roommates, merging fiction and reality much in the same way the drug merges past and present for Richard. He begins to encounter difficult side effects, but now is addicted to the drama of watching another world unfold (this was before TV and therefore surprises him).
Though the setting is rich (Cornwall countryside!), the characters superb, and the plot intriguing, the resolution is dodgy. Most of the pressing questions remain unanswered after a long build-up of hints and near-reveals. I was left feeling a bit cheated out of important information, as if the author decided it was time for the book to be finished already and just closed things off. I understand the dramatic need for the twist which occasioned most of my disappointment, but somehow the tension did not build in such as way as to leave me breathless, but, rather, huffy. Perhaps it is my own fault.
Serendipity and silkworms:
9 months ago