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Review: Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand August 24, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews.
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Cover of Elizabeth Hand's Wylding Hall

Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall

I noticed I’ve been remiss in reposting my Netgalley reviews here, so I’ve posted a bunch of them tonight and scheduled a couple of others to pop up at the appropriate times. I quite like Netgalley; I may only have found half a dozen or so books to buy for my work library collection, but I’ve had a good number of books of personal interest. A review in exchange for a free advance ebook copy is a good deal. Especially when the publishers are nice enough to provide epubs. PDFs often end up not looking too good on a small screen, and reading a whole book on my iPad, unless it’s specifically designed for a larger size (like graphic novels), is less than ideal. All of this building up to the review for possibly the best thing I’ve read through Netgalley.

One of the best books I’ve read through Netgalley. You know you’ve enjoyed reading something when the first thing you do afterwards is buy more of the author’s books. I’d read at least a couple of Elizabeth Hand’s novels years ago but lost track of what she was doing. I’m rectifying that.

Before reading Wylding Hall, I read a recent interview with Hand in which she mentioned some of Alan Garner’s books as being favourites of hers. Garner wrote novels about Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, sometimes overtly fantasy, sometimes more strange and suggestive of fantastic elements. Ancient myths being replayed or echoed in the modern world were at the heart of novels like The Owl Service, which was filmed as a TV miniseries. A band of young English folk revivalists took the book’s name for their own, doing a new take on 1970-style English folk rock — which brings us back to Wylding Hall, a book about a fictional version of one of those bands and what may be a Garner-like ghost story they find themselves caught up in.

Wylding Hall takes the form of an oral history about a band and the mysterious events that occurred when they recorded their classic album at an old house in the English countryside, with the surviving band members, their manager, a journalist, a band member’s ex-girlfriend, and a local talking about what happened — the strange events in the house, the mysterious girl, the lead singer’s disappearance.

There’s a lot of nostalgia for early 70s books and TV shows like The Stone Tape, and for the music scene of the time (Hand acknowledges the recent book Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music). Wylding Hall ties in with that without being a pastiche, by virtue of telling the story in the oral history format, with the characters being able to look back on the story’s events from the present day. It’s a technique that works well.

This is a fresh take on the classic ghost story. Highly recommended.

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