Thoughts on Ghost Story by Peter Straub

I am really disappointed with this book. I came into it all excited because of the praise given by Stephen King on the front cover. I actually read my first King novel last semester. It was amazing! So when I saw him praise this novel on the cover I was expecting a lot. And then I read the “preface” and thought, “oooooh, creepy and great potential.” Then I fell asleep for most of the first half of the novel. I’m really struggling on how to come up with something good that I’m taking from the novel. Stephen King says that the terror just mounts and mounts. The only reason it really did that with me is because I was expecting that because King set that up for me. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. The preface set it up, then I felt like nothing was really going on until the end of the Fenny Bates story. But I felt like I had to wait until the middle of the novel beforewe finally get to something. The weird deaths of the sheep, Jon’s suicide, and Lewis’ near death for example. But then it peters out a bit for me. If I hadn’t seen King’s comment on the cover I probably wouldn’t have been expect quite as much.

However, it does have a few strengths that resonate with me as a writer rather than just a reader. I did read the first 200+ pages very quickly. Even though it still bored me. And that does say something. While in retrospect I don’t recall a whole lot of action in that first 200+ pages, it does say something to Straub’s ability and voice as a writer that I went through almost the first half of the book before really paying attention to the page number. There wasn’t enough going on for me in the first half of the novel to really recount when my wife asked what I was reading and what I thought. But his voice when writing drove me on so that I would find something better.

The other aspect of strength is that this novel resonated as more of a psychological terror than an actual ghost story. The Fenny Bates story clearly sets the tone that the past haunts us. That is something I think we all can relate to after we’ve reached a specific age point in our lives. Everything from small regrets to larger traumatic events we’ve witnessed, carried out, or failed to prevent stays with us. So as a writer, that’s something I like about the story and will be the ultimate lesson I’m taking away from this novel. So far I’ve focused on how authors utilize character feelings and opinions to pull us into a story. Ghost Story takes it further for me by drawing me into the past of a character to help me see how debilitating it can be for the character. For my current project (my thesis) this will be a great tool as a stumbling block for the main character.


3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Ghost Story by Peter Straub”

  1. Interesting thoughts. I think more people disliked this book than liked it, and I’m in the minority of those who liked it. Still, I can see why the first half bored. Straub’s literary style creates subtle tension through atmosphere and detail rather than action, and that process seems to take more time to lift off. In my mind, I compare him to Poe. If Poe released work today, I’m not positive it would be well received for the same reasons this book hasn’t been too well received. Part of me wonders if Poe is popular simply because time has allowed him to be built up. However, I’m not sure if this comparison works, because I like Straub’s work but am not the biggest fan of Poe. Is it sacrilege for a horror writer to admit he isn’t a big fan of Poe?

  2. It’s funny that you reference King (which I also did in my essay) as I found some similarity in the way the two writers tend to meander around for long stretches without giving the reader a lot to hold on to. As you noted, it’s a testament to their abilities as writers that we do wind up sticking through to the good parts, though I’d actually give Straub the edge over King in this regard–while King often seems to pour pages into whatever train of thought takes hold of him, whether it’s relevant or not, I’d argue that Straub does a neater job of structuring his scenes around his story’s central theme.

  3. Really? I’m surprised that you thought the first 200+ pages were the quickest to read. Maybe it was just me, and the fact that I was hauling ass trying to finish the book on time, but for me, the first 200 pages were the most difficult for me to get through. Mostly for the same reason you gave, there just wasn’t a lot going on.

    Despite the lack of true ghosties, however, I agree with you. If you can wade through all the dense wordage, there are some really great examples of haunting going on in the text.

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