Leiber, Fritz (Reuter), (Jr.)

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Richard Delap

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 523

[Our Lady of Darkness is] an absolutely superb book, Leiber's first novel of the supernatural since the incredible Conjure Wife…. (p. 4)

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While the novel is easy to read and follow, almost every page is filled with little sub-plots and commentaries that shift and slide with ambiguous purpose. The reader who is familiar with Leiber's own background may be convinced the book is only a thinly disguised autobiography embellished with interludes of supernatural horror. And those with a solid grounding in supernatural literature and the histories of its practitioners (especially H. P. Lovecraft) will understand how Leiber is creating a fantastically successful tour de force of the entire genre. The whole performance is a sophisticated sleight-of-hand creation that may seem perilous to "mainstream" readers … but is not so esoteric that it cannot be enjoyed simply as a witty, amusing and, finally, terrifying tale of occult forces at work in the modern world.

What is especially remarkable about the book is Leiber's cast of characters, the most engaging ensemble to appear in many years.

Franz Westen is recovering from a long bout with alcoholism and the death of his beloved wife, Daisy. His private quirks … become not only a revelation of character but an important aspect of the half-century curse and how it will seek to destroy Franz by taking advantage of his own psychological weaknesses. Leiber could have given us lengthy interior monologues to familiarize us with Franz's obsessions, but he realizes the danger of boredom in this technique and so wisely lets Franz react to a splendid menagerie of supporting characters, each of whom serves a revelatory purpose yet remains a full-bodied creation and not a stereotype….

None of [the] characters are introduced merely for the color they add, although all are extremely colorful and manage to even get away with some quite complicated dialogue ("bookish," as it is often called); but rather each has a definite and telling part to play as the web of horror draws tighter and tighter around the threatened Franz. Their characterizations are developed so that when they must do something vital to the plot, their actions are totally believable and in character.

Finally, there is Leiber's writing itself. Already acknowledged as one of the finest stylists in the field, versatile, sophisticated and armed with a perceptive wit that continually astounds and surprises with its offtrail directions, Leiber has here produced some of the best writing in his long and distinguished career….

The novel is quite obviously an homage to the Lovecraft oeuvre—the slow, steady build to a moment of supreme terror—but deliciously cut with worldly-wise humor and sprightly sexual innuendo that make it palatable for today's less shockable readers. Along with the important and pervasive elements of pathos and kindness, this gives the book a distinctive taste of its own that should delight readers of every persuasion. Moreover, there are recurring images (the "spider" in the elevator, for example) that personify with exactitude Leiber's unique cross of modern and primeval fears. (p. 5)

Richard Delap, "Fiction: 'Our Lady of Darkness'," in Delap'; Fantasy & Science Fiction Review (copyright © 1977 by Richard Delap), Vol. 3, No. 4, April, 1977, pp. 4-5.

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