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Mortal Love: A Novel Paperback – June 28, 2005
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“A brilliant novel like Elizabeth Hand’s recent Mortal Love deserves all the readers it can get.” (Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World)
“The novel succeeds as both a thriller and a meditation on the mysterious nature of inspiration.” (Village Voice)
“A wonderfully Gothic atmosphere, with lush visual imagery and rich poetic language.” (Library Journal)
“A lushly written treat that is also that rarest of things, a thought-provoking literary page-turner.” (BookPage)
“Elizabeth Hand is a writer whose vision, and whose writing into that extraordinary vision of hers, is exceptional…” (Bradford Morrow)
“ I think she has written the best book of her generation.” (Peter Straub)
“Don’t turn the pages too fastif you can help it.” (John Crowley)
“You don’t so much read this novel as drink it down, like absinthe.” (Kelly Link)
“A great gothic read, and one that dishes up all the dark delights.” (James Reese, author of The Book of ShadowsJames Reese, author of The Book of ShadowsJames Reese, author of The Book of ShadowsJames Reese, author of The Book of Shadows)
“Mortal Love is a wildly intelligent, dangerously sexy read.” (Alisa Kwitney, author of Does She or Doesn't She?)
About the Author
A New York Times notable and multiple award– winning author, Elizabeth Hand has written seven novels, including the cult classic Waking the Moon, and short-story collections. She is a longtime contributor to numerous publications, including the Washington Post Book World and the Village Voice Literary Supplement. She and her two children divide their time between the coast of Maine and North London.
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There are some authors who I like enough as writers that they get added to my favorites list despite finding many flaws with their novels. Charles Stross is like this for me. I often have nits to pick with his work, and sometimes I downright don't like a novel (Glasshouse, for instance). But still, I always keep reading, and think that he is one of the best speculative fiction authors out there.
I have a feeling that I may end up with a similar reaction to Elizabeth Hand. I read this book pretty compulsively. I loved her diction and her style and the way that she mixed art and fantasy and fairy. It was not until the very end of the book that I kind of realized that I didn't really like the plot very much. This mainly because I was unconvinced by a number of the characters. I found the way that the book shifted perspective particularly jarring, and both Juda and Val remained too opaque and still not opaque enough for what they were supposed to be.
This sounds like very serious criticism, and it is. But still, I found the book inspiring and thought-provoking and actually kind of a brilliant mess. I like brilliant messes. I kind of hope to find the same quality in the rest of her work. What do you think? Will I?
Ms. Hand, master of the lush descriptive passage, is brilliant at creating a sense of place, especially with her descriptions of 19th-century Cornwall and 21st-century London. Maybe you'll feel as if you've dropped in for a visit. She also has a way of making the bizarre seem at least semi-normal (a border collie that apparently would place in a NASCAR race), and she's playfully suspenseful (going Hitchcock one better, she serves up a McGuffin but in the end simply tosses it away). The book's tightly plotted and the obsessed characters seem real, for who among us has not fallen victim to obsessive love at one time or another?
A warning for those few of you who may have stumbled upon this without knowing a thing about "Waking the Moon": Ms. Hand apparently expects her readers to bring something to the table with them. In this case that would be a knowledge of Art History, Victorian life and literature, the pre-Raphaelites, Celtic (and other) mythology, and Jungian pyschology. And a knowledge of British Geography wouldn't hurt either.
I've only one question: does Daniel go home in the car or the motorcycle?
On this level, the novel surely succeeds--the reader, never bored, flips from one point of view (there are three masculine protagonists) to another, from one century to another with great fascination, wanting to know, to discover and finally to understand. In the same way that the object of the men's affections, called many names throughout the different time periods, entices the men who seek her out, wanting to capture her on canvas, in print and of course, between the sheets, we are also enticed to the point where we want to pinpoint her genus and specie. We realize from the start that the woman is not human, and we are given hints as to what exactly she is and what exactly her motivation might be, but mysteriously this is never fully resolved. A little investigative work is necessary to at least grasp the essence of the associated myth and even this does not tie up all the loose threads that run through this novel like the frazzled end of a bolt of cut fabric, albeit a lovely rich brocade. Ms. Hand was kind enough to explain to me that Larkin embodies many mythical creatures emanating from a fairy world with little contact with the more fragile human existence.
There is so much that is not explained and this adds to the slightly fogged out feeling that we share with the male protagonists as they interact with this supernatural situation. I speak of allusions to the scissors of Dr. Learmont, the green light, the fantasy world glimpsed by all the artists and sought after---metaphors for the creative process? I am uncertain. From Larkin's obsessive objective, who was Val and how were we to make the connection? The character of Juda---sometimes a woman, sometimes a man, sometimes as fluid as water---acts as a sentinel of sorts; Ms. Hand likens her to Puck, mischievous yet responsible for Larkin's escape from the other world. Nevertheless, as fun as this novel is, I would have totally enjoyed more of an explanation, or at least another chapter that would have gained me more insight and more of Hand's deliciously edgy phrasing.
As far as the storyline, however, none of this really matters. As she does in Waking the Moon and the Glimmering, Hand compels us to enter this strange world where we are left a little mystified yet are better for the journey.
I thoroughly enjoyed the otherworldly quality of this read and recommend it to anyone who likes a glimpse at the creative process. The interplay between real historical characters and those crafted by Hand works well as do the backdrop of the insane asylum and the labyrinthine back alleys of London. Hand does a fine job of capturing the despair and frustration of each of the men as they lose what they think they desire most.
As my knowledge of Welsh myths is slim, I would have appreciated some of Hand's insight in an afterward, maybe an explanation of the myth of Blodeuedd or the connection to the Dog that Jumps Down. Fans of 'Waking the Moon', will surely enjoy this novel especially with its cameo of Balthazar Warnick, but, they like myself and the male protagonists will find themselves craving more to make the entire sensory experience click with that satisfactory flash of ultimate understanding.