Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mrs. God by Peter Straub and other ghostly tales

In Mrs. God (M) by Peter Straub,William Standish is an American academic who is awarded the opportunity to work at Esswood, an English country house, whose previous guests included T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, and Henry James. Standish's own relative, Isabel Standish, a poet, also once stayed there, and she is the subject of William's research. Accepting this prestigious fellowship allows Standish to abandon his pregnant wife, whose first pregnancy he insisted she terminate. Standish was convinced that his wife had conceived a child in a adulterous relationship and was so overcome by jealousy that he forced her to have an abortion, although he knew down deep that the child was his. Wracked with guilt and increasing paranoia, he was plagued with bloody and disturbing imagery and visions of lost children.

Esswood House belongs to a reclusive family named Seneschal. Standish finds out very quickly that the house holds a secret. He meets a array of creepy villagers on his journey and he is warned of the American who was murdered there. At Esswood, although his every need is accommodated, he is more and more isolated and bombarded by frightening dreams and images. He is served the same food repeatedly by people he never sees. There are disturbed faces in the windows, far away laughter and footsteps, and all those creepy dollhouses in the basement. Esswood morphs from the perfect academic retreat he is loath to leave to a solitary prison his is unable to leave.

This is not a easy read. If you have never read Peter Straub before, I would suggest you start with Ghost Story (M). Mrs. God has a menacing atmosphere and is definitely creepy. The plot, surprising in such a short book, is meandering and does require attention. I am also at a loss to understand the significance of the title.

If ghost stories are your thing and you enjoy the adrenaline rush that accompanies horror fiction you might also want to try Ghosts and Grisly Things (M) by Ramsey Campbell, The Haunting of Hill House (M) by Shirley Jackson and Haunted (M) by Chuck Palahniuk.

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