Monday, January 2, 2012

The House on the Strand

The House on the Strand, by Daphne du Maurier

Well, this is one of those times when I have to wonder what I missed.  I was looking forward to this novel based on its popularity and my enjoyment of Rebecca, but The House on the Strand left me, if not cold, at least cool.  I'd hoped for something better.  However, I don't recall being as impressed by Jamaica Inn as I was by Rebecca, so maybe I should've expected less from this one, too.

I went into the book knowing little more than that it involved time travel, which always sounds interesting, at least.  I'll admit, I was thrown for a loop when the protagonist's identity was revealed.  Here was a (40-something?) man, when I'd been picturing a young(ish) woman.  Then there was the rather confusing (and dull) introduction of the cast of medieval characters... and the fact that, when it comes right down to it, I'm not usually drawn to stories set in that period of time.

Given my expectations, this was something of a let-down, though it did get a little more interesting once Vita and the boys were introduced.  Still, the relationships between the characters irritated me more than anything else, and I didn't really like anyone-- not even the perfect Isolda.  (I think that by the end of the story, I came closest to liking Magnus, which is odd, because I found him especially annoying through much of the book.)  Generally, the story seemed to just ramble much of the time and have no real point-- nor a satisfying conclusion.  This is not one I see myself returning to.

More specific observations, reactions, etc.:

•  Reminders of Rebecca (though it's been such a long time since I read it):  There's a character named Magnus, which made me think of Maxim.  There's a reference to a house that must have burned to the ground, I think... Then there's the fact that there are inquests in both novels.  

•  The inclusion of the name of the author's real-life home (Menabilly) was interesting.

•  "The wimple that framed her features was adornment enough, enhancing the charms of any woman, plain or beautiful."  I've never found wimples to be very flattering.  Besides, they make me think of nuns... Not that a nun can't be beautiful, but you get my point. 

•  Richard's relationships are all so weird and negative... I mean, a certain degree of that would be realistic... and maybe all of it is realistic, for many, but how depressing...  He "could have done without" his stepsons.  He insists that he loves his wife, but he rarely treats her with affection-- more often, he seems to think of her with annoyance, contempt, or dread-- the stereotypical "can't relax until I've gotten my shrew of a wife off my back" style of husband.  

•  Richard's not the only one with weird relationships.  Apparently everyone was cheating on everyone else in medieval times.  A little of that, ok, might be necessary for the story, but it felt like everyone had a Secret Lover.  

•   "Her jeans became her-- like all Americans, she had a stunning figure-- and so did her scarlet sweater."  Huh.  I didn't know all Americans in the 19-whenevers had stunning figures.  I wish the same could still be said today-- not that we're the only country sadly lacking in stunning figures.  Chubbiness-- the unwanted side effect of living in the land of plenty in sedentary times.  

•  The American wife and guests seemed to regularly use British slang/terminology.  Odd.

•  "'Naturally I've talked to your wife,' he agreed, 'and apart from a few feminine quirks she's a very sensible woman.'"  Ugh!  Yes, those "feminine" quirks.  Because men are always perfectly sensible. 

•  The frequent use of the word "mizzling" caught my attention.    


•  I guessed pretty early on (not much to my credit, since it seemed so obvious) that someone would be hit by a train while under the drug's influence.  

•  How come a car horn was enough to rouse Richard from his trance, yet the thunder of a passing train couldn't get through to Magnus?   (Other than that, the whole story was completely plausible-- the time travel drug, the pseudo-scientific explanations of how the drug works, the fact that they just happened to go back to witness the play-out of a fascinating story of love and hate instead of a typical, boring farmer's life, etc.)

•  I don't understand the instant and enduring love for Isolda.  I would like her more if she wasn't the fantasy love-interest of so many of the characters.  Also, she seems to not care much for her children.  She expresses some concern for them before she decides to run away, but it almost seems like an afterthought, and while he's still living, she appears to be more interested in meeting up with her Secret Lover than with being a good mother.  

•  "I had the impression that everything he said was leading up to something else, to some practical proposition that I must take a grip on myself, get a job, sit in an office, sleep with Vita, breed daughters, look forward contentedly to middle-age, when I might grow cacti in a greenhouse."  Well?  And what's so awful about living a normal life?  Does he have a better idea?  Something other than living in a fantasy world, mooning over a woman who's been dead for hundreds of years?  (I'm not impressed by his little drug-induced midlife crisis.)

Incidentally, I'm having a hard time deciding how to categorize this novel... It's partially historical, somewhat suspenseful, with a touch of romance and some elements of science fiction.