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JULIA - 1975
by Peter Straub
PB - $7.99
a man, a writer of great skill, respected by his peers and admired by
his readers. We all know his name. In 1979 he wrote a book called GHOST
STORY and became a legend. But before GHOST STORY, there was JULIA.
Besides being a damn fine ghost story in its own right, JULIA is probably the finest modern gothic novel (if 1975 can still be considered modern that is) that I can name. Not gothic,
or "Goth," like white pancake and black lipstick is gothic, but gothic like Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker. To me JULIA is to ghosts what DRACULA is to vampires and FRANKENSTIEN is to mad scientists and monsters.
It is simply one of the best ghost stories (a dead tie with GHOST
STORY itself) I have ever read, but JULIA is not just a story about ghosts. It is a great people story too. Mostly
what I felt for the players in this story bordered between a low-grade
disgust and outright loathing, but damn it I felt these emotions with an intensity I hardly ever feel for real flesh and blood people, let alone characters on paper. The one sympathetic character (the only one I felt sympathy for anyway) was the book's namesake, Julia Lofting.
Julia Lofting: Scared, confused, and half mad from the tragic and gruesome death of her
daughter Kate, Julia Lofting begins what she hopes will be a new, happier
life. Just released from a short-term committal, Julia decides that her
husband's infidelities and cruelties are not worth bearing without their
daughter. She leaves Magnus Lofting, and after a short search buys an
old house on Ilchester Place. The house, predictably enough, seemed to call to her, draw her to it.
The day she moves in she sees a blond child playing in the park nearly, a girl so
like her dead daughter she at first believes it is Kate's ghost. This
girl is not like her Kate though; she does awful things. Circumstances
and the presence of the horrible ghostly child force Julia to explore
her place in her new home's past, and her ties to the malevolent child.
As she comes closer to learning the truth of her haunting, she is forced
to face the truth of her own daughter's death; not a constructive thing
for somebody who was already half mad.
Magnus Lofting: Domineering, powerful, Magnus Lofting will stop at nothing to get Julia
back by persuasion, force, or legal maneuvering. He is willing to commit
Julia for life if need be rather than lose her, or her family fortune.
The one thing he fears even more than losing Julia and her money, is the
possibility of his adopted brother, the hated Mark Berkeley gaining Julia's
affections and money for himself.
"I'd happily kill you if you ever slept with Mark," he had told her once, but does he mean it?
Lily Lofting: Cold, calculating, and possessive of her brother, Magnus, Lily Lofting
at first despises Julia's intrusion into her brother's life, and her family.
Only the passage of time and the birth of her niece, Kate, will soften
her attitude toward the young American girl who married her brother. Or
maybe it's the extravagant gifts Magnus buys her with Julia's money. When
Julia leaves Magnus she confides in Lily, even going as far as showing
her soon to be ex-sister-in-law her new home. Though Lily immediately
betrays Julia to Magnus, she plays the part of friend to Julia, and loving
sister to Mark, to the hilt. Where do her true loyalties rest? Is she
under Magnus's control, or does she control Magnus?
Mark Berkeley: Shiftless and irresponsible, Mark is a teacher, self styled communist,
and wanna-be writer. His interest in Julia began the moment he met her
as Magnus's intended bride. He is attracted to Julia in more ways then
one, her looks, soft-spoken intelligence, and (I'm seeing a pattern here)
her money. More than that though, he sees her as a chance to hurt Magnus, the brother who never accepted him.
When Julia leaves Magnus, Mark sees his opportunity to snub his adoptive brother
in a truly monumental way. His friendly flirtations in the past, and the
dangerous friendship he and Julia had shared behind Magnus's back pave
the way for Mark's sleazy plan.
But there is more to Mark than meets the eye. He is the wild card in JULIA.
Olivia Rudge: Poor lost soul, or evil incarnate? JULIA is a tale of intrigue, dysfunction, and death wrapped in a tight and highly readable package. Peter Straub is a master, and if GHOST STORY didn't prove it to you then JULIA will.
I give JULIA a confident 5 bookwyrms. Now go read it!
This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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