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December 2002
 
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The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier (1969)

A time travel novel by Dame Daphne du Maurier? She's the acknowledged mistress of romantic melodramas like Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, and the writer behind Hitchcock's The Birds, but sf?

In 1969, desperate for something interesting to read, I headed for my father's bookshelf. There I found du Maurier's latest---The House on the Strand. Despite initial reluctance I was soon happily treading the straw-strewn floors of fourteenth-century England with Richard Young. He tries an experimental drug developed by his biophysicist chum Magnus that transports his awareness---but not his body---to a Cornish manor house.

Inevitably, he soon gets involved in the lives and loves of the house's occupants, albeit as a ghost from their future. The adulteries, betrayals and murders of five hundred years past become more important than the banalities of his present. It's no wonder Young gets hooked, obsessed with going back to an age that rapidly seems realer than his own. But of course nothing good can ever come of drug dependency, and the dreamy high turns into nightmare. Is he really there, or is his subconscious merely escaping from his unhappy marriage into fantasy?

Strand is embroidered with period detail by du Maurier's awesome expertise in historical romance, lending background credibility to the intrigues Young witnesses. But she never wrote the baser sort of bodice-ripper, and plot always stays supreme. Whenever we're in danger of getting lost in the Tudor era, we're yanked unceremoniously back to the sordid present along with Young. Until the next dose.

—David Westwood

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