Peter (Francis) Straub John Mellors - Essay

John Mellors

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Peter Straub's highly ingenious tale of Kensington gore [Julia] excited me only to sceptical comment…. Julia is American, married to an English barrister, Magnus, who even at the age of three 'had an ancient, powerful soul'. Julia and Magnus had attempted an emergency tracheotomy on their nine-year-old daughter, Kate, when she choked on a piece of meat, and the child bled to death before the ambulance arrived. Julia leaves Magnus and buys a house near Holland Park; it turns out to be haunted by Olivia, another nine-year-old who had met a violent death. Olivia seeks revenge, and is bloodily successful.

It is the clumsily imprecise writing that lets the story down. On one page 'the air in the bathroom felt silkily warm to her facial skin', and a page later 'she could nearly feel the blood beating in her facial skin'. What's wrong with 'face'? And how do you nearly feel blood beating? A man 'applies the flame to the tip of the cigarette'. Where else would he light it? Within six pages Julia's vagina 'throbs' twice and 'aches' once. Her heart 'thrums' and 'thunders', and 'food bounced in her stomach like an angry ant'. An overcooked and indigestible blood-pudding of a book: good ingredients spoiled.

John Mellors, "Kensington Gore" (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1976; reprinted by permission of John Mellors), in The Listener, Vol. 95, No. 2446, February 26, 1976, p. 254.∗