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Old 09-11-2018, 08:57 AM   #1
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October 2018 Discussion • The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier is the October selection for the New Leaf Book Club.



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Like many of du Maurier's novels, The House on the Strand has a supernatural element, exploring the ability to mentally travel back in time and experience historical events at first hand - but not to influence them. It has been called a Gothic tale, influenced by writers as diverse as Robert Louis Stevenson, Dante, and the psychologist Carl Jung, "in which a sinister potion enables the central character to escape the constraints of his dreary married life by travelling back through time."

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Old 10-15-2018, 08:34 AM   #2
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It's time to talk about The House on the Strand. What did we think of it?
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Old 10-15-2018, 09:52 AM   #3
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I came across an interesting comment about Daphne du Maurier’s writing, which applies very well to this book. It was written by Kate Kellaway and I think appeared in The Guardian.

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Du Maurier was mistress of calculated irresolution. She did not want to put her readers’ minds at rest. She wanted the novels to continue to haunt us beyond their endings.
Without talking about the ending, in case some haven’t got there yet, I thought it very powerful. I read this book when it was first published back in about 1970, and that ending has always stayed with me, even though I had forgotten some of the details of the story.

The other general comment I wanted to make now was how vivid I thought all the medieval passages were, and I loved the way the book started by throwing us straight into Dick’s experience without any prior explanation.
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Old 10-15-2018, 11:47 AM   #4
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Unlike Bookpossum, I wasn't thrilled with the way the book started. I generally like openings in media res, but here there was far too much description of the landscape for my liking--it didn't grab me at all.

Overall, I'm rather wishy-washy about the book. A lot of it seemed vaguely familiar--I may have read it many years ago--and pieces here and there reminded me of other works; I kept thinking of Green Darkness (the parallels of past and present), Brigadoon (dissatisfaction with current life vs. a romanticized past), and even The Haunting of Hill House (the obsessed person's pretense of leaving). I know, I'm a bit weird.

I couldn't make myself believe that Magnus's concoction was anything more than a version of LSD and the trips anything more than hallucinations. I wasn't particularly fond of the 14th-century setting at first but eventually became more interested in it. I liked Vita and the boys.

Mostly, there was little that stood out for me as especially noteworthy one way or the other.
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Old 10-15-2018, 12:46 PM   #5
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Well, it's after 2:30am and I should be headed to bed ... but a few brief thoughts.

Well, the theme suggested sci-fi and that's what we got (close enough).

I liked the idea much better than the execution. The idea that your mind/awareness might occupy a different time to your body was, I thought, quite fascinating. The drug thing was a bit iffy with regard to an explanation for it, but du Maurier was missing some of the technical possibilities that have since been explored - thinking here of the end of The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, where they follow genetic links into the past; or The Trigger by Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Kube-McDowell, that ends up exploring the information theories behind DNA.

Speaking of genetic links. I was expecting an explanation for why both Magnus and Dick should be tied to the same person (Roger) in the past - perhaps that the three were all related. But such an explanation was never made explicit, and I wondered if we were supposed to assume it.

I liked Vita and the kids, but felt as if they were kept out of the central story more than was realistic - presumably to stop things getting overly complicated.

Dr Powell was a problem. I had expected to discover that he had a connection to Magnus, as that would have explained him much better than the ... what? Is he just a busy-body with convenient qualifications? Far too convenient as he was, whereas there seemed no reason why he should not have had some connection with Magnus.

I liked the ending. I didn't find it overly powerful as such, but it was satisfying.
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Old 10-15-2018, 02:04 PM   #6
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Quote:
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Speaking of genetic links. I was expecting an explanation for why both Magnus and Dick should be tied to the same person (Roger) in the past - perhaps that the three were all related. But such an explanation was never made explicit, and I wondered if we were supposed to assume it.
There is something early on about why Roger appears to both of them, but Magnus brushes it aside as something they'd need more trips to figure out.

I wondered if Magnus was not necessarily being truthful about his own trips--it seemed that for the most part Dick would report his experiences, and Magnus would say, Wow, same thing happened to me, and enlarge upon it, feed Dick more information, and then Dick's next hallucination would enlarge upon that, etc. Dick had previously spent time in the area, and he might have heard some of the names in discussions with Magnus's parents or neighbors, so the fact that those 14th-century people actually lived wouldn't prove that he wasn't simply hallucinating. Maybe Magnus was experimenting with controlling hallucinations.

I suspect my theory is full of holes, but it's what I was thinking as I read.
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Old 10-15-2018, 03:34 PM   #7
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My audiobook copy finally arrived from the Linrary so I’ll discuss my reactions later on.
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Old 10-15-2018, 07:33 PM   #8
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Quote:
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There is something early on about why Roger appears to both of them, but Magnus brushes it aside as something they'd need more trips to figure out.

I wondered if Magnus was not necessarily being truthful about his own trips--it seemed that for the most part Dick would report his experiences, and Magnus would say, Wow, same thing happened to me, and enlarge upon it, feed Dick more information, and then Dick's next hallucination would enlarge upon that, etc. Dick had previously spent time in the area, and he might have heard some of the names in discussions with Magnus's parents or neighbors, so the fact that those 14th-century people actually lived wouldn't prove that he wasn't simply hallucinating. Maybe Magnus was experimenting with controlling hallucinations.

I suspect my theory is full of holes, but it's what I was thinking as I read.
Magnus suggested that Roger was the guide, like Virgil for Dante in the first two sections of The Divine Comedy. In a way, Roger seemed to be somehow aware of Dick’s presence.

I agree that the trips are really a nonsense, but I was prepared to suspend disbelief and go along with the story. I don’t demand technical explanations for how something can happen as long as the author makes it work for me.
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Old 10-15-2018, 08:46 PM   #9
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gmw, I found Dr Powell’s appearances perfectly acceptable. In a small area of the country he was probably the only doctor, or perhaps one of only two or three, to be around.

I think his role was somewhat like the person who comes in to return chaos to some semblance of order, as in a Shakespearean tragedy, or more recently, the police officer in the film Fargo - which I found quite Shakespearean in fact.
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Old 10-15-2018, 11:15 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Catlady View Post
There is something early on about why Roger appears to both of them, but Magnus brushes it aside as something they'd need more trips to figure out.

I wondered if Magnus was not necessarily being truthful about his own trips--it seemed that for the most part Dick would report his experiences, and Magnus would say, Wow, same thing happened to me, and enlarge upon it, feed Dick more information, and then Dick's next hallucination would enlarge upon that, etc. Dick had previously spent time in the area, and he might have heard some of the names in discussions with Magnus's parents or neighbors, so the fact that those 14th-century people actually lived wouldn't prove that he wasn't simply hallucinating. Maybe Magnus was experimenting with controlling hallucinations.

I suspect my theory is full of holes, but it's what I was thinking as I read.
No more holes than in the story we read I had similar thoughts ... I didn't really discard them until the end because I thought it was possible that the author might turn around and present an explanation in this light; I even thought Dr Powell might be the intended instrument to do that ... but apparently not.

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Magnus suggested that Roger was the guide, like Virgil for Dante in the first two sections of The Divine Comedy. In a way, Roger seemed to be somehow aware of Dick’s presence.

I agree that the trips are really a nonsense, but I was prepared to suspend disbelief and go along with the story. I don’t demand technical explanations for how something can happen as long as the author makes it work for me.
I find it amusing that I seem to be turning around from the last discussion (Never Let Me Go) and now to be expecting an explanation, but the difference for me in this book is that an explanation was started (the drug causing the trip) which led me to waiting for the rest of it. It wasn't a big problem for me, but I was aware of expecting more explanation this time.

An alternative explanation for "why Roger" might be in the contents of the drug itself. The regular references to the monkey's head etc. made me wonder if it was really a monkey; might the drug have contained some human elements and perhaps those came from a descendent of Roger. (I'm not claiming this makes it any more credible scientifically, just looking for something that might have worked in the story.)

I also find it funny that the trips didn't seem so much like nonsense to me, certainly not while I was reading. And even in retrospect I can imagine someone putting on a Virtual Reality helmet and stumbling around the the countryside experiencing a different story to an external observer. (The drug may have been an imperfect way to achieve this effect, but I am interested in the idea that the effect - now - could be quite real. I think this made me more accepting of the drug as the magic wand needed to explore the idea.)

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gmw, I found Dr Powell’s appearances perfectly acceptable. In a small area of the country he was probably the only doctor, or perhaps one of only two or three, to be around.

I think his role was somewhat like the person who comes in to return chaos to some semblance of order, as in a Shakespearean tragedy, or more recently, the police officer in the film Fargo - which I found quite Shakespearean in fact.
I found his treatment of Dick in the last chapters all too pat - for someone that did not have a connection with Magnus. But had Powell been hired by Magnus to watch over Dick then his presence would have made more sense to me. Again, it wasn't a big problem for me, just a niggle.

It is possible to suppose that there was indeed a connection between Magnus and Dr Powell, but for some reason Powell chose not to reveal it to Dick (just because Dick is lousy at keeping secrets doesn't mean everyone else it - eg: Willis).

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Old 10-16-2018, 08:08 AM   #11
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I have skimmed the comments above, and agree with many of them. So I will just jump in and address something no one else has.

One of the first notes I made about the book was in reference to the casual homophobia of the time. Vita comments about the gay Magnus:

Quote:
"I'd be in the way, of course, and would make myself scarce. But he'd probably like to keep the boys."
This is the sort of thinking that has dogged gay men for decades - that they are interested in young boys, etc., etc. However, doing a bit of research, I discovered that it's likely this was a subtle dig at the opinion of homosexuality, not homosexuality itself. According to an article in the Belfast Telegraph from 2017, Daphne du Maurier's older sister was gay and it is alleged that du Maurier herself was bisexual. "Later in life, there were rumours of trysts with other women, including the wife of her American publisher, though this was unrequited. She did, in the late-Forties, have an affair with an actress and, most intriguingly, her father's former girlfriend, Gertrude Lawrence." It seems to me now that by putting the hateful words into the equally hateful figure of Vita, she was magnifying Vita's ugliness, not edifying her opinion.

Which does lead me to my next point - wow, did I hate Vita. She was the sort of grasping, materialistic, alcoholic (though everyone in the book seemed to be to some extent) American in every bad sense of the word. It was very easy to see how Dick could prefer a psychedelic drug to his own wife, though it was hard to imagine why he had married her in the first place.

The second thing I wrote down was how much like Connie Willis' Doomsday Book this felt to me. Mind you, I know that Willis' book involved a woman actually having to live through the Black Death and that real time travel was involved. But the sense of attachment to these other people and times felt similar to me. The comparison is a compliment to both tales.
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Old 10-16-2018, 08:31 AM   #12
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The thing that got me about Vita was the way she moved all the furniture around in Magnus’s house. I thought that was quite astonishingly rude. And I agree, that was a vile thing to say about Magnus. I read it as another aspect of Vita’s character, rather than a reflection of du Maurier’s attitudes.

She and Dick do seem to be a complete mismatch. But then is Dick to be believed about all this? We only have his version of the relationship.
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Old 10-16-2018, 11:12 AM   #13
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Hmm. I liked Vita, maybe because I disliked Dick and we saw her through his biased viewpoint. She seemed fairly typical for the time; her "crime" seemed to be wanting her husband to stop wallowing in indecision. She was bossy, sure, but someone had to be.

Any homophobia pretty much went over my head. I did think that the main reason Dick married Vita was to "prove" he wasn't gay.
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Old 10-16-2018, 12:19 PM   #14
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Hmm... it's so easy to say something and realise later how misleading it can be. I did like Vita and boys as characters in the book - in that I thought they were good/effective characters, and could have been even better if given a bit more leg room. However I am much more ambivalent about Vita as a person.

I can see why she was bossy, she felt as if she needed to be. It's possible this had a negative effect - making Dick even more ineffectual - but that isn't likely to change way Vita behaves.

That she expressed some homophobia is not unrealistic, and perhaps has secondary causes in this case. She probably is quite jealous of the relationship between Magnus and Dick, it is easy to see this extending into homophobia however she may have felt originally. I can see the furniture rearrangement as being another way in which Vita tries to exert her possession of Dick by taking control of his surroundings. ... So I find her quite understandable, and someone that I even came to feel considerable sympathy for - none of which means I would have chosen to marry her.

I am not inclined to think that Dick felt he had anything to prove as regards his heterosexuality; he and Magnus had been close friends since childhood, and had there been anything sexual in it I think it would have expressed itself by now. No, I felt as if the friendship was what it appeared - which still didn't make it easy for Vita to accept.

I think that by the time we (the readers) appear on the scene, Dick is already out-of-sorts. He's made his first trip, he's feeling pressure about the New York job offer etc.. So by the time we meet him he's already disrupted and this is what I use to explain why his relationship with Vita seems a mismatch. We see a few glimpses of how things may have been before, but for the most part he is too distracted by the time we arrive to be much use to anyone.
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Old 10-16-2018, 01:28 PM   #15
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Why the odd names for the two primary people in Dick's life: Magnus (great) and Vita (life)? Any thoughts?
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