readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

Wylding Hall – Elizabeth Hand *****

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A beautiful, eerie, convincing novel.

Fans of Elizabeth Hand will recognize many of the themes and elements that she likes to return to. Music, subcultures and magic entwine to create a web that will enrapture the reader just as surely as it entraps her characters.

After a tragedy, the manager of the folk-rock group Windhollow Faire comes up with a plan to keep the band away from unfavorable publicity and get them started on a sophomore album. He rents out a rambling old manor house in a remote corner of England, and sets the band up with a rehearsal space there. His rules are: no friends, no journalists, no groupies. Just music. And they do indeed make wonderful music – the recordings from that summer are acknowledged to be better than anything any of them created before or since. But a bunch of wild hippie teenagers can’t be expected to abide by too many rules.

And, it’s hinted from the beginning, something else besides music happened that one wild summer. Something else besides drugs and sex, too.

The book proceeds from the idea that there’s been a recent resurgence of interest in the music of Windhollow Faire, and a series of interviews on the topic of that summer at Wylding Hall is being conducted.

At first, the format is a little disorienting, as we read answers from people without being quite sure who they all are – but soon enough, the characters are firmly and vividly established, each with their own distinct voice and perspective. It captures a certain time period (the early 70’s) and ‘scene’ perfectly (you can virtually hear the music), and adds in elements of pagan custom, ancient magic, and haunted house tales.

It works so well, because of the characters – how each person is affected (or not) is influenced by who they are. The crafted scenarios make even the oddest events plausible. Just enough is explained, and just enough left as enigma.

A lovely book, and highly recommended.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are my own.

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