House on the Strand

The House On The Strand - Daphne du Maurier 3-3.5 starsI'm a bit torn on this book... I admit that the only Daphne du Maurier I'd read was "Rebecca". But the idea of a du Maurier novel that included time travel was almost too much to resist.Another reviewer listed within the Goodreads.com review provided an interesting tidbit, which I'll repeat here and hope it's accurate. Essentially, du Maurier's husband had a house named Kilmarth and she spent some time there. She discovered a room in the basement with odd items, like liquid-filled tubes and things cased in glass jars. Which was supposedly where her imagination took off and we get this book... a mad scientist, indeed!Richard (Dick) is the main character. His school chum and long-time friend Magnus is a biochemist and somewhat of a mad scientist. Magnus owns a small cottage/home Kilmarth in Cornwall and has loaned it to Richard for the summer as a holiday for Richard and his family: wife Vita and her 2 boys, Teddy and Micky. Vita is American and her brother Joe in New York has offered Richard a great job. Richard isn't sure what to do about the job, since he's quit his own, similar job, in London. For now, he's enjoying his seaside holiday, sans family.Magnus asks Richard to be a guinea pig, testing an experimental drug that may or may not allow one to travel back into time and be a ghostly observer -- neither seen nor heard. Both Richard and Magnus seem to go back to the same time period (14th Century England) and revisit the past in and around Kilmarth house. They hypothesize that the experience is tied to a steward, Roger, because each of them have observed Roger as the primary figure during their past visits. Magnus has 3 types of the hallucinogenic drug in the basement lab at Kilmarth, labeled A, B, and C. Richard starts by taking drug A, and he's so intrigued by the sensations and the characters of the past, that he becomes addicted -- not only to the drug, but to that past. He searches for the people he's encountered and their homes. What has become of them? Magnus is far more detached emotionally from the experience, but he, too, seems to continue the "trips" and to encourage Richard to continue taking "trips", too, and documenting everything he sees and hears. Richard becomes so enamored of the people, especially Roger and a woman named Isolda, that he mixes past and present and seems to prefer the past to everything else, including his family, after they arrive.Magnus (IMO) is jealous of Richard's "trips" to the past, and so he arranges a weekend visit. Magnus has been experimenting with drug B, and on the train up, he decides to take a detour, determined to take a "trip" before seeing Richard, and IMO, without him. But Magnus' "trip" ends up a tragedy, as he is struck by a train in the present while he is apparently in the past. Richard empties the basement laboratory, but not before secreting away what remains of the drug stash: drug C. And he beings experimenting with drug C as often as he can. In doing so, he almost strangles his wife (he thinks she's someone else in the past) and ends up confessing all to a local doctor. The doctor sends what he thinks is the remainder of drug C off to be analyzed, while putting Richard under lock-down. And when Richard is recovered, the doctor insists that Richard leave the house with his family immediately, at least for a few weeks. But of course, Richard can't do that -- he's too addicted to the drug and to the past. So... he slips off and takes one last swig of drug C (ironically, in the doctor's presence)... and takes what we can only assume is the last "trip" to the past.The ending was unexpected, although to be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. Richard seems to be going through a mid-life crisis: he's bored with his life and his family. Everything is predictable, and he's got the feeling that it's all playing out with or without him. When Magnus offers this challenge, it's excitement -- something new, something to be involved in. And Magnus has a way of getting Richard to do what he wants -- a long-standing part of their friendship.I was struck by the thoughts of the book... that when we are bored with ourselves and our lives, we can easily get addicted to whatever takes us away from our self and life: drugs and alcohol are the easy ones, but what about sex? food? books? movies? music? Whatever provides the escape. Another thought, very deep and philosophical, about how we're all interconnected through time and space...So I'm torn about the book. In some ways, I empathize with Richard and see how he could be lured into the addiction of the past, at the cost of his present, his family, and likely, his life. But then again, it's difficult to feel too much sympathy for a man who seems to throw everything away with both hands, simply because he's bored with his life and having a mid-life crisis. Did he fall in love with Isolda? Is that it? Or did he recognize himself in Roger? At a couple of points, Roger sees the entire set of events through Vita's eyes, and she "interprets" them. Which forces him to admit that he could very well be mixing the past and the present, assigning personalities and events based on names he's heard and people he knows now. Interesting theory, which throws a curve ball at the reader. Is that what's really happening? Are we supposed to figure that out, while Roger continues muddling through, unwilling to admit the truth even to himself?The characters in the 14th Century are muddled and confused, as other reviewers here have mentioned. There's a handy chart at the beginning of the book I read, but it didn't do much to help me keep everyone straight, since they're all so connected: brothers marrying sisters or cousins and having children with the same or similar names... And the events that occur... let's just say that I consider myself well-educated, and yet, if Roger hadn't parsed what was happening and said it a different way, I'd have been lost for much of the 14th Century happenings.In some ways, du Maurier is a bit of a moralist. I say that because of the way that the books ends, almost leaving us hanging. But I believe the interpretation that we're to go with is that Richard got exactly what he desired and deserved. And in a way, you could say that Magnus did too -- consider the imagery of how Magnus died... blind and deaf to an oncoming train. Hmmmm...