Sunday, February 17, 2013

The House on the Strand (1969)

Now and then I think I might want to make a project of Daphne du Maurier, as much as anything because she wrote the original literary properties for a few Alfred Hitchcock movies, including Rebecca and The Birds. The House on the Strand, which is out of print as far as I can tell (and whatever that means exactly nowadays ... I found it online as a penny hardback), comes with an unusual twist on science fiction time travel, which I suppose is how I happened to get to it first. The twist is that time travel happens because of taking a drug, and essentially it's only the consciousness that actually travels as the physical body stays put in the present in something of a trance-like state, although it moves as the time traveler moves across the landscape of the past (and woe to you if something has been built there in the meanwhile). The theoretical basis is a lot of nonsensical argle-bargle, but never mind—that's as much feature as bug to me in the time travel subgenre, which I adore for itself. Unfortunately, in this novel, the 14th-century story that so fascinates our protagonist bore little interest for me, overpacked with tedious details of the long-ago characters  and their byzantine interrelations and intrigues. What I found more interesting was the nature of the drug use itself, which du Maurier facilely compares to LSD (no coincidence that the book was published in 1969, near the zenith of the drug's renown), terming the experiences "trips" and larding them out with various hallucinatory details. I wouldn't be surprised if du Maurier had done some experimenting of her own, though she was really most convincing to me on the patterns of addiction itself, never that much of a problem with the hallucinogen class, as far as I know. But in terms of the secretive way of living, the double life, compulsions, and the insanity of continuing to use in the face of undeniable dangers, her novel seems to me strikingly on the mark, and the most interesting aspect of it by far. It closes on something of a cheesy note, but there are moments here when one groans in empathetic horror at the choices and actions of our hero, which means it's not entirely without merit. Even so, overall, that's kind of a thin reed from which to hang things that are all too often boring, inconsequential, and way too outdatedly trendy. Proceed with caution.

In case it's not at the library.

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