Peter (Francis) Straub Michael Mason - Essay

Michael Mason

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is very disheartening to come across the following phrase in the second sentence of Peter Straub's Julia: "his customer was precipitous and eccentric"…. This will strike some people as an extravagant reaction, and not worth voicing. But if you fail to notice or fail to remember that "precipitous" and "precipitate" are not the same you are likely to make other kinds of mistake to do with other parts of a fiction—in setting, character, theme, and so forth. Julia is set in London, and much of the action unfolds in a house in Kensington. These settings are adequately realized (though Mr Straub, who is an American, makes some errors about British institutions), but the characters are dizzyingly inconsistent. There is also a considerable vagueness in the plotting and a vicious circle ensues. It is not clear who does what, but the characters' dispositions cannot be called in as evidence because these are so indefinite, which is partly a result of the uncertainty about their actions—and so on….

In the last resort Julia … [succeeds] in the brutal business of delivering supernatural thrills…. [Mr Straub] has thought of a nasty kind of haunting, and he presses it upon the reader to a satisfying point of discomfort. And he has, quite wittily, made the nice world which the nastiness subverts a colour-supplement one of beautiful people living in Chelsea and Bayswater.

Michael Mason, "Nasty and Nastier," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3859, February 27, 1976, p. 213.∗