Book info

Julia (2000)

Julia (2000)
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3.52 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0345438655 (ISBN13: 9780345438652)
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English
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ballantine books
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Julia (2000)
Julia (2000)

About book: Julia is my first Peter Straub read in over a decade. I came across a bulk lot of his books on Ebay, all of his novels in paperback for less than eight bucks, and couldn't help myself. I'd previously read Ghost Story and Koko, and loved both, but I find myself in a dark gray area with Julia.What started as one hell of a creepy ride soon became an exercise in tedium. All the book's major questions are answered around the halfway mark, but I trudged along anyway, because I was invested in the story. I cannot express this enough: the middle section of this rather short book is a goddamn chore. From page 130 to page 270, I was bored to the point of drooling. All the suspense disappeared, and oddly enough, I felt like I was reading a novelization of a film I'd seen a hundred times over. I knew what characters were going to say, how they were going to react, what they were going to do next... it was fucking surreal. Then I reached the end. Was not expecting that ending whatsoever. Even though the middle of the book is maddeningly banal, the opening and the conclusion are worth the read alone. But I doubt many will want to power through to appreciate the closing scenes.My major gripes about this novel have quite a bit to do with our main character, the titular Julia. She's the mother of a recently deceased child, but at no point in time did I feel that she mourned the child's passing. Instead, her dead daughter Kate felt more like a broken keepsake. Like, awww, shucks, I dropped a piece of my favorite china. Her husband, the uber douche-tastic Magnus Lofting (whose name caused me to chuckle like a toddler with the farts), is equally ambivalent about his dead child. This killed the mood for me, stopped it cold, because I didn't give a shit one way or another if anything bad happened to this cast. Add to all that the fact that every woman in this novel is interchangeable. They all speak the same exact way, and love being protected by their big strong men. Make no mistake about it, this book is dated as fuck. Women are treated like objects, animals are tortured and mutilated for shock value, and all the pop-culture references die on the wind unless you're a history buff who's studied 1960's London. Julia is loaded with exposition and adverbs, but that's because it's a product of its times. Pick up any literary horror novel from this era, Stephen King's work included, and you will find the same bloated prose. Lastly, I will mention some rather laughable repetition toward the end of the book. Three times in one chapter, Straub writes: "Her vagina throbbed." Three times. In one chapter. Let that sink in. By the end of the chapter, Straub flips the script, presumably because he's noticed his repetition, and slightly changes the sentence to: "Her vagina ached." Bravo, you fucking wordsmith, you!In summation: Peter Straub is a literary giant, and what I say about his books does not matter, but this early novel is, for the most part, a pain in the ass to read. A killer opening and ending are the only reasons to read this, but only if you're a fan of unhappy endings. Recommended for Peter Straub completionists alone.

This book starts out like classic Peter Straub - atmospheric and creepy, but not full of gory or cheap scares. But the ending is a disappointment. The story begins with Julia, an American heiress living in England, purchasing a giant old house in an historic part of England. She had just left her husband (and the hospital) after the death of their nine year old daughter, Kate, during an attempted at home tracheotomy (seriously). She blames her husband for Kate's death, but early on the reader has the sense that Julia's memory of the event is likely not accurate (and this being a Straub novel, that's a good bet). Julia immediately sees a young girl who looks a lot like Kate, and of course, chases after her into a park. The girl disappears, but when Julia sees her again, she has attracted a crowd of interested children (and killed a turtle). Strange things begin happening in the house - the heaters keep turning themselves on, vases and items keep falling on their own and breaking, fleeting images appear in mirrors, etc. These creepy types of little events would seem cliché in a lesser writer's hands, but Straub makes them work. Just to pile on the clichés, there's even a visit from a medium.As is often the case with Straub, the reader doesn't know how much of the events are due to supernatural forces. Other possibilities are that Julia is imagining the events or that Julia's husband (or his greedy sister) is causing them. Then Julia discovers that her house has a disturbing past, and as she investigates, she discovers eerie connections to her own situation.Although nicely set up, the book has an unsatisfying conclusion. Except for Julia, all the other main characters are quite unlikable - her cheating, mean husband, her greedy sister-in-law who wants her committed so her brother (and her) can take Julia's money, and her brother-in-law who is a lazy but handsome waste of space (and also wants her money). As these other characters become more prominent, the book becomes more annoying. More problematic, the "twists" in the book are not surprising; there is no shock when you reach the end. And Straub seems to reuse some plots of his previous books (ghost with a grudge and a hidden secret related to it), which he used more effectively elsewhere; this made the book feel like "Ghost Story Light". Finally, there is some killing of animals which was generally unnecessary and didn't advance the plot. Overall, the standard haunted house scares would have held up if the story had. But when the story turned into an unsurprising, lazy, mess, those clichés became less forgivable.
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Reviews
Jack
I love good haunting books. If there is such a thing as a literary vice, that is probably mine. Straub is an excellent writer, and creates a lot of atmospheric tension. This novel definitely falls in to the "quiet horror" side of the genre, and while there are some grotesque scenes, the horror is generally accomplished by what you don't know, and what you haven't seen. Julia is the quintessential haunted female, spiraling down into madness, but is the madness a result of the haunting, or is the haunting a result of the madness? That's what this book explores. There are several tropes in this book that will be familiar to horror writers, and the creepy child is done so often there days that it is has almost become cliche. This book, published in 1975, predates a lot of that, and Straub pulls it off brilliantly. I've been told that Ghost Story is his masterpiece haunting, and after reading Julia, I can't wait to read it. This is a quick, easy read, and you won't be disappointed if you like old-school Gothic hauntings.
Mukta Mohapatra
I love Peter Straub's work and I was so excited to find a copy of Julia at Powell's bookstore.I am still a little confused about what happened because Julia was such an unreliable narrator.After Julia's daughter Kate dies, Julia goes into a madhouse for a bit. After coming out of the hospital, she buys a new house and attempts to start a new life away from her husband. Unfortunately, the new house is haunted by an evil little girl named Olivia. Olivia has returned because her mother Heather and Julia have a lot in common.Julia's in laws are equally crazy. Her husband Magnus is stalking her, her BIL Mark is trying to sleep with her and her SIL Lily is betraying her at every turn.It frustrates me when Julia doesn't leave and go back to America, but that is adding logic to a crazy situation. At this point in Julia's life, escape wasn't really an answer.Why is Olivia haunting Julia? Because Magnus is Olivia's father as well as Kate's. Why does that matter? Because both mothers stabbed their daughters and killed them.When Julia realizes the truth, she embraces her destiny and either commits suicide or lets Olivia kill her.I am still not clear on why Mark raped Julia and then dropped her immediately.I am still not clear on why Lily didn't believe Julia all along.Overall, not one of his strongest books, but eerie nonetheless.
Victoria M
First time I came across Peter Straub - that I knew of - was during a Stephen King spree I had some years back, which eventually led me to read The Talisman and Black House, two The Dark Tower-related novels that he and King wrote together. Only in November last year, did I realize that a horror movie I had watched at the tender age of 11-ish was in fact based on another of his books, Julia. What exactly made me look the movie up that random evening in November, I do not remember anymore, but I know I had exactly two clues to go on; Mia Farrow was in it, and it was about a creepy evil ghost girl. When I subsequently discovered that the movie was based on one of Straub's earlier novels, I knew I'd rather want to read that, than look at the movie again.For a full review, click this.
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