by Peter Straub
“The dark gained on them all.”
Our title character Julia, wealthy by inheritance and obsessed with her daughter’s death years before, retreats from her husband, Magnus, and buys a house where she plans to live by herself. She begins seeing things in the house, including a strange little girl, and starts investigating the history of her new home. Magnus, along with his sister Lily, tries to convince Julia to return to his care, regain control of herself, and accept what really happened with their daughter. But Julia’s investigation uncovers troubling circumstances.
Julia is the author’s first supernatural novel, and proper framing is assisted by mentioning his following two novels. Mr. Straub’s most famous work is Ghost Story, his third supernatural novel, a masterpiece that weaves a kind of slow, creeping cloud around the reader. If You Could See Me Now, an excellent, straight-shooter of a horror story bridges the gap between Julia and Ghost Story.
Julia shares pacing elements with If You Could See Me Now, where the story moves quickly and doesn’t take as much time generating a fog, though you can see the beginnings of the style in the author, more so here than in the second book. It’s not as capable as that second supernatural novel, but is far livelier and faster-paced than the monstrous Ghost Story where the mist-machine is used so effectively.
Character development is strong, especially with Magnus, an alpha we can easily see dominating the rest of the players. Also enjoyable are the elements of mysticism with Lily’s circle of friends that help to trigger Julia in the first place, as well as Magnus’ brother Mark whose meditation lifts him out of the world. The book has mystery elements as well but is far from a whodunit.
Julia is a good story, the first stepping-stone on a crooked path to glory and has multiple scenes of intense imagery as only the best writers can evoke.
“In this room, air refused to circulate, but piled atop itself, densely.”