BOOK REVIEW: JULIA BY PETER STRAUB

JULIA

GENERAL INFORMATION

TITLE: JULIA

AUTHOR: PETER STRAUB

PAGES: 291

PUBLISHER: BALLANTINE BOOKS

YEAR: 1975

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL FICTION

COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_(novel)

www.peterstraub.net

Julia was adapted for the screen in in 1977 as The Haunting of Julia starring Mia Farrow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Haunting_of_Julia).

BLURB FROM THE COVER

In a house in London a woman starts a new life, trying to put tragedy behind her. Then a pretty blonde child runs into view, bringing with her an inexplicable suggestion of evil.

Once, Julia Lofting had a husband and a daughter. But everything has changed since she bolted from her marriage, in flight from the unbearable truth of her daughter’s death. For Julia, there is no escape. Another child waits, another mother suffers, and a circle of the damned gathers around her. The haunting has begun…  

THE OPENING LINE

The little blonde girl, about nine or ten – Kate’s age – and enough like Kate to make Julia feel dizzy, ran floating up from nowhere along Illchester Place and, windmilling her arms at the street corner, flew into the path to Holland Park.

OVERALL IMPRESSION

I really enjoyed Julia. The novel reminded me of all the things I love about Straub’s novel Ghost Story. It’s an early novel so it has some faults. I’ve never seen the movie but plan to seek it out along with the adaptation of Ghost Story.

HIGHLIGHTS

Straub does a great job of creating suspense throughout Julia. He leads the leader through a dark tunnel and gives them the occasional shimmer of movement in the walls around them to keep them guessing what the fuck is going on. Straub never spells it all out in black and white. He leaves readers floundering about in the dark. I love it when writers realise readers are intelligent and don’t need to have everything spelled out in minute detail. I had no idea what the hell was going on for great chunks of Julia. That’s a good thing, believe me. The only thing I guess right is that Julia’s husband, Marcus might have been the father of evil little Olivia.

The revelation of what really happened to Julia’s daughter Kate is heart-breaking. Kate started to choke on a piece of meat. Marcus and Julia call an ambulance. The ambulance takes an age to arrive. Julia tries to perform a tracheotomy with a knife and Kate bleeds to death. Julia convinced herself Marcus performed the tracheotomy and her realisation near the end of the novel that she wielded the knife would bring tears to a glass eye.

Straub never points out in black and white what’s really going on in Julia. I was left with many unanswered questions after I read the final line. Was Julia really haunted by the malevolent spirit of Olivia, an evil child who was murdered by her mother? Did her grief over Kate’s death and her denial of her own part in it cause her to hallucinate? Did Julia commit suicide when she realised her own part in Kate’s death or did Olivia murder her? Was Julia haunted by a malevolent spirit or did she suffer some kind of mental breakdown? I usually hate it when authors do this but Straub makes it work somehow.

LOWLIGHTS

I wasn’t impressed by the title of Straub’s novel. Julia is a little bland. I think naming a novel after the main character is boring and lazy. I think the movie’s title The Haunting of Julia would have been much better. Or even the alternative title Full Circle.

Julia’s husband, Marcus is one of the worst characters I’ve read in fiction in a long time. He was a rather over the top caricature of a villain. He came across as almost cartoon-like. He was so obviously a bad guy. Straub put no effort into developing him or making him remotely human. I can almost imagine Straub rubbing his hands together and laughing with glee when he writes a scene involving Marcus.

Mark, Marcus’s adopted brother is also a very stereotypical character. He’s a brooding, handsome yet troubled young man. He dreams of taking beautiful Julia away from his ogre-like brother. Julia is tempted by his dubious charms. Straub must have wet himself with glee when he wrote any of Mark’s scenes.

Marcus wants his wife to return to him. He tells Julia this is because he loves her and misses her etc. The truth is he wants her back under his thumb and firmly under his control. He doesn’t want to find a way to make do without his wife’s money. He concocts a plan with his sister Lily to have Julia committed and back in a psychiatric hospital. This would make a great plot.  However, Straub chooses to have various scenes between Marcus and Lily where they discuss their plans. This completely destroys any impact or suspense of their actions. Subtle is the key and Straub goes for the opposite.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Julia is a well-written, suspenseful horror novel with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing well after the final page has been turned. It’s an early novel; Straub’s third and impressive because of this. Julia doesn’t work completely because of some poor characterisation and bad plot execution. However, it’s still worth a read.

RATING

4-star-rating

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