‘Lost Boy, Lost Girl’ by Peter Straub – REVIEW

Gripped by the intense opening of this novel, I was anticipating something like a reprise of Straub’s uber-eerie classic, ‘Ghost Story’.

‘Lost Boy, Lost Girl’ turned out not to be that – either in theme or in quality. It’s not a great Peter Straub novel, but it is a good one – and, as his fans will know, that’s enough to set it head and shoulders above most novels in this genre.

398528

Long-standing Straub fans will also be intrigued by the appearance in this book of Tom Pasmore, a character from Straub’s ‘Mystery’, and by the author’s wholesale relocation of streets and places from the island of Mill Walk, that is the setting for ‘Mystery’, to the town of Millhaven in this novel. What is he up to? And what is this obsession with place names that start with Mill, anyway?

But to the story…It centres on Tim Underhill, a writer, and his teenage nephew, Mark, who has become obsessed with the house of a serial killer following the mysterious suicide of his mother. Events unfold through parallel narratives (one in the first person, from the point of view of Tim, the other written in the third person, focusing on Mark.) These threads interweave cleverly, although there is a drop in pace whenever the action switches to the misadventures of Mark and his best friend, Jimbo.

These twin points of view reveal the emotional complexities and deeply buried secrets revolving around the abandoned house with great detail and intensity, but one is left feeling that perhaps it has taken a lot of pages to account for relatively few actual events.

However, there is no doubting this Straub fella has a way with words, and there are some very creepy moments – like the reveal of why the rooms in the killer’s house look smaller than they should…

Good work from one of modern horror’s undoubted greats!

WE ARE SAILORS BEING LURED ONTO THE ROCKS

Have you ever met someone so beautiful it scared you a little?

This is not the fear of failing to impress, or the nervousness you feel on approaching someone you like. Talking to this person is easy, all too easy.

This person seems perfect for you; and yet, headily mixed with the excitement, is a distant terror. Is it rooted in helplessness, or inner conflict, in knowing self-deception? Haven’t you glimpsed it, this subtle dread walking hand in hand with exceptional beauty?

alma mobley

Alma Mobley as depicted in the film version of Peter Straub’s ‘Ghost Story’

“The first impression I had of Alma Mobley…I felt an odd mixture of attraction and revulsion…The straight blond hair glowed. So did her pale eyes: in them I saw a kaleidoscope of shattered light and colours…She seemed beautiful in a nearly mythic way.” 1

Why are the pages of horror populated not only by monsters but also by gorgeous, perfect, alluring creatures: beauties as well as beasts. And which is more dangerous? With a monster, all you have to do is outrun it.

“Did I say she was beautiful? I was wrong. Beauty is too tame a notion…I cannot do it justice with words. Suffice it to say that it would break your heart to see her, and it would mend what was broken in the same moment…” 2

This is no modern invention. The potency of an Edward Cullen or an Alma Mobley draws on ancient archetypes. The Succubus, the Incubus, the Siren. The notion of frightening, unearthly, predatory beauty is as old as culture.

edward-cullen-edward-cullen-17582925-500-333

Edward Cullen as played by Robert Pattinson

But surely the heroes and good guys are the good-looking ones! The terrifying things are those which you cannot bear to look at – the unspeakable face of the demon, the vision of torture and horror, the bogeyman.

Yes, but our relationship with the beast is a simple one, our response unambiguous – psychologists call it fight or flight. What’s far more perilous is standing mesmerised before someone so beautiful it makes you ache inside, wanting more than anything not to leave their presence, while a distant, un-heeded voice in your head is screaming, Run for your life!

You are a sailor, heading inexorably for the rocks, and loving every second of the journey.

1 Peter Straub Ghost Story.
2 Description of Caesaria Barbarossa from Clive Barker’s Galilee.

The real ‘Elsham’s End’

All fiction has its roots in real life. Even fiction that deals with the supernatural.

One of the most common questions I get asked about ‘Elsham’s End’ is whether it’s based on a real place. Well the answer is yes – so here is the story of the real ‘Elsham’s End’.

‘Elsham’s End’ is based on the house I grew up in, in the Kent countryside. I was very fortunate to live there – it was a beautiful place with a large, rambling garden. But my family’s relationship with the house was ambiguous – we all loved it and yet I think we all knew there was something not quite right about it.

It was fairly isolated and I suppose that contributed to this feeling, a vague sense of unease. It was very quiet there, particularly at night. Many of the events in the book came from dreams that I and other members of my family had. Visitors who stayed in the house often reported strange and unsettling dreams too, some refusing to sleep there again.

My mother particularly never really felt at ease in the house, and I later discovered that she hated living there. She had many dreams that centred around the boxroom, a small attic space above the garage, which features very strongly in the novel.

In looking for an explanation, she always put the peculiar atmosphere in the place down to its history. Two sisters had lived there before us. Essentially they had run a private hospice there – a place where people went to die.

My own experience of living there is hard to pin down. I really only became aware of how strange the house felt when we left. My older brother and sister had flown the nest, so we moved to a smaller place in a busy little village further up the valley. I was ten years old, yet I was acutely aware of how different the atmosphere was in the new house. And I realised I’d just stepped out of the shadow of the old place, which had been cast over me from such an early age I was not even aware of it.