Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Review - Peter Straub's Mrs. God

Mrs. God by Peter Straub
Published by: Pegasus
Publication Date: February 14th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 208 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Esswood House is the dream of all literary types. Housing rare manuscripts from some of the literary elite. Henry James, T.S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford are just some of the luminaries that not only stayed in the house, but left work to the great library. Yet, for researchers, there is a road block to this holy grail. Unlike many country estates in England, this house and it's contents aren't part of The National Trust or even open to the public. Oh no, the Seneschal family not only still reside within it's walls, but are recluses as well. Every year they invite scholars to come and research there, with the coveted Esswood Fellowship. But in all Professor William Standish's life, he has never seen anyone make it to Esswood. Sure, they get the fellowship and are all excited, but then something always happens. A letter appears saying something has arisen, some secret in the candidate's past that invalidates the arrangement.

William Standish has never really thought about applying himself. He's never had a reason. But now, well, now, his standing at his university is in jeopardy, and he needs to be published. He has always had a connection to the work of the minor and virtually unknown poet Isobel Standish. She was the first wife of his grandfather and William has always felt her work deserved a wider audience. Against his wildest imaginings, he is accepted as the Esswood Fellow and waits daily to get the letter saying the offer has been revoked. Yet the letter never comes and he is shortly on a plane to England, leaving behind his very pregnant wife and entering a world of his dreams. Though some dreams quickly become nightmares.

I so wanted to like this short book. Mrs. God has the elements that I so love and long for in my readings, forgotten English Country Houses, literati, ghosts... and yet, this book is the biggest failed attempt to emulate Shirley Jackson that I have ever read. It wanted so much to be of the caliber of The Haunting of Hill House, but Peter Straub is no Shirley Jackson. Firstly their is the crudeness of William Standish. He has dark thoughts and really is a misogynistic bastard. The feelings towards his wife I'm surprised haven't resulted in murder. Not only that but there are constant references to his erections and a rather odd and very disgusting masturbation scene. Also, his eventual breakdown seems not to be because of the unearthly whatever is going on, but because of women all being unfaithful. Yes, because instead of being an adult about things, when women are unfaithful, even if they are pregnant, why not just decapitate them. Say what? I'm dearly hoping that Standish's views on women are nothing more then fiction for Straub, because they are disturbing in the extreme. I kept wishing that at every meal of veal (was it really veal?) and Morel Mushrooms that Standish sat down to that some False Morel's would slip in there and that would be the end of Standish.

Yet this lack of a likable character isn't the only flaw... yes, it is the big flaw, but you can have anti heroes and still have a redeemable book. Though there really was no way to redeem Standish. The lack of any cohesiveness to the "haunting" was a big problem. We see "things" but we get no answers. There are possible immortals that still have aged a bit, witchcraft, aka magick, maybe vampires, maybe little people trapped inside dollhouses, maybe disfigured children that have cold white hard skin, maybe just incest, maybe, maybe, maybe. Yes, ok, there are the great ghost stories, by the likes of Henry James, that have no concrete answers. In The Turn of the Screw was it ghosts or was the governess insane. But see there, it's one or the other... not fifty million possibilities! We have a choice as to what to believe and can create an ending for ourselves. Not be left with the feeling that the author himself obviously had no idea where he was going either so everything will just fall apart, (even his grasp on the English language with the almost incoherent writing the book devolves into), while William Standish feverishly declares that he knows what's going on. Does he really? Because if he does, could he let me in on it... oh wait, he can't... he burned the whole freaking place down and ran off into the woods after some ax murdering, because obviously this is The Shinning now...

Gaw. Give me back my money and my time Straub, you owe me! Also, your graphic designer obviously didn't bother to read the book, because while the cover is suitably Gothic, the house is supposed to be Palladian... so, fail on you Michael Fusco. Shame on you. You give Graphic Designers a bad name!


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