Day 690: Wylding Hall

Cover for Wylding HallElizabeth Hand’s earlier novel Mortal Love showed she was interested in a connection between inspiration and folklore. Wylding Hall is also an unusual exploration of this theme.

The novel is told as a series of possible interviews, maybe for a documentary, about a 70’s folk group called Windhollow Faire. The group released two albums, but a mystery surrounds the second one, which 20 years later has been re-released as a smashing success.

The novel is narrated by the band members, their manager, and a couple of other people who visited the band during the fateful summer the album was recorded. The band’s manager Tom Haring sets off the action of the novel by renting an old Tudor mansionĀ in a remote rural area for the band to live and work in during the summer. Part of the house has been restored but the rest of it is a rambling wreck. The band works but in a party atmosphere of drugs and booze.

The novel builds up some suspense with the hints of something unusual happening that summer involving Julian Blake, the band’s lead singer and songwriter. He is the only member of the band who is not heard from in the novel. The house is described in a way that is both beautiful and creepy, featuring an old library that cannot always be located and is full of feathers. The local inn also features some folklore and is named after an old song about killing wrens on St. Stephen’s Day.

link to NetgalleyThe locals warn the band members away from the woods around the house, and their superstitious comments add to the hints of darkness in the book. For a short novelĀ in which little actually happens, it creates quite a mood of creepiness.

My only criticism is that most of the band members blurred together for me, because I couldn’t keep them straight. A couple stand out, but most of them are too undefined to be successful characters.

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Day 91: Mortal Love

Cover for Mortal LoveMortal Love is Elizabeth Hand’s extremely unusual and strange novel about artistic inspiration and its relationship to obsession. It is narrated in two parallel stories, one taking place in the present and the other in the Victorian age.

In the story from the past, an American painter named Radborne Comstock meets Evienne Upstone, a model who has inspired the work of members of the Pre-Raphaelites and who has supposedly driven one painter insane. He finds this woman irresistable but she may be insane herself. Evienne has a close associate, a maid, who has blue fingers. Comstock experiences weird hallucinations when he is near Evienne, but is not sure whether they are hallucinations or he is going insane.

In the present time Daniel Rowlands, an American writer visiting in London, meets Larkin Meade, who seems to be the same woman as Evienne Upstone. She becomes his lover and leaves him physically and emotionally deranged.

In the meantime, a young man, Comstock’s grandson, who has been raised by a man with blue fingers and has fought insanity all his life, has become obsessed with his grandfather’s paintings of Evienne and decides to visit London.

This book is a wild, fantastic tale linking Celtic folklore, the Pre-Raphaelite art movement, and ancient mythologies. It is at times bewildering but also makes compelling reading.