13 thoughts on “Wylding Hall – Elizabeth Hand

  1. Chapter 1

    “But back then, Wylding Hall was a mere dot on the ordnance survey map. You couldn’t have found it with a compass. Most people go there now because of what happened while the band was living there and recording that first album. We have some ideas about what actually went on, of course, but the fans, they can only speculate. Which is always good for business.”

    That’s the last long quote I shall make from this book. It’s not a spoiler as it’s almost at the beginning of the book. It’s a scene setter. All stems from that. And with the twenty twenty hindsight I haven’t yet got about what is going on, I shall no doubt be forming an accreting gestalt, in real-time, from the later inter-threaded conversational monologues of Windhollow Faire’s folk band members (and others) talking about the time when The Velvet Underground and early Dylan were popular, each monologue a bold-headed leitmotif – describing, interpreting, evaluating (I guess) what happened all those years ago when, following the then recent suicide (?) of a previous band member, they needed to be ‘purged’ by making transcendental music at Wylding Hall? I am guessing some of that. These entries will be my own bold-headed monologues, threaded with the characters’ own, as my real-time dream catching review… At least, that is what I hope. But no spoilers.
    I may be a nineteen sixties sucker myself (now in my late sixties) and, yes, I feel sucked in. Slowly does it.

  2. I have just remembered that I have ‘dreamcaught’ this author – or tried to do so – in 2011: a story entitled ‘The Boy In The Tree’ HERE.

    Chapter 2

    “’Cloud Prince’: I wrote that about Julian. The boy with the sky in his eyes.”

    Early 70s, I see, not the 1960s. Progressive Folk. And I join this group in that hindsight I mentioned before as a result of their intermingled but discrete (if not discreet?) monologues or ‘backstories’ still starting to come together, as they build up their own characters (discrete within an intermingling) amid the house’s genius loci of “ensorcelled” creativity (the monumental music album subsequently to be named after the house, it seems) – their sexuality, their beauty male and female, their personal losses and gains of an audit trail starting to spike out like a graph…or so I sense impendingly.
    An engaging text.

    In future, I may follow my public path of intermingling with their intermingling by reading and reviewing tranches of text that straddle more than one chapter. We shall see.

  3. Chapter 3

    “He even taught himself to play the viole de gambols, a true sign of a man with too much time on his hands.”

    Tellingly not ‘viola da gamba’? Dowland, John Clare, Rimbaud. This text itself gambols, it seems. References to the Preterite of the Preinternet, as I call it, contrasting wifi with books and album covers, and what life was like then with a pre-Internet mind. Reminding me these are indiscreet talking faces being filmed for a modern documentary, not discrete literary backstories that are likely ever to remain discrete. And Julian’s watch tells sacred and profane time separately, just as I found this single chapter felt like straddling two chapters, by dint of its lengthening before my eyes.

    Woodsmoke imbuing the house – but no fires, being hot season? Could it be the commune’s spliff smoke in disguise?

    Music as ‘shared dream’.

    “Have you ever seen a bird without its beak? Horrible, just tiny dead eyes and a hole in its face.”

    “Like looking into the wrong end of a telescope and the right end, both at the same time. It was a very strange window.”

    I am now ensorcelled myself. Encircled by people, time and place.

  4. Chapter 4

    Windhollow Faire had already passed the old grey whistle test, but two of them were now busking just for drinks down the road in the village pub called The Wren, squandering their cachet, as it were. But seeing old photos there, photos here today, gone tomorrow, showing a ceremony with caged wrens that even this text itself says was all a bit wicker man. Wicker Whistle. The old grey man, rather than the green one?

    These interview answers — as discrete, eventually-to-be-a-gestalt ‘backstories’ to a now famous event involving this fey group — are the forming of the novel text about Windhollow Faire similarly forming a music album within the very same text? Or vice versa? Enhanced, entranced, enchanted, ensorcelled, encircled by a fey hinterland of old song and Cecil Sharpery.

    Tempting fate.
    Unquiet Grave or Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Windhover?

    • It must be a coincidence or preternaturally fated but I just this minute started real-time reviewing HERE another new book about a different large house and someone about to start talking in interview about what once happened there. I like reviewing books in tandem, often a symbiotic process without my having planned it. We shall see.

  5. Chapters 5 & 6

    “…the colliers didn’t just bring the canaries into the mines to warn them against the poisonous gases. They took them down because they sang so beautifully, even in the dark.”

    A telling contrast between canaries and the earlier reference to wrens. An outsider to the group turns up and gives her own interview or backstory in the future, a psychic woman as counterpart to those mine canaries, sensing auras and atmosphere, a previous connection in her own way to one of the men, but she immediately felt ‘wrongness’ about the house, she tells us, and this rubs off on the others – as the hindsight ‘backstories’ almost blend or somehow talk to each other, while remaining discrete monologues, in parallel to the bodily contact at the time of all of them in meditative communion, whereby things happen to some and not others, and (my expression) a cat has now been put among the spiritual and sexual pigeons, I guess.

    I will, from this point onward, resist retelling this book. My own monologue will now become a description of how things that are about to happen – via this text’s two time frames of actual happening and reported happening – affect me rather than describing the details of exactly what seemed to happen or did happen. I am after all another outsider like that psychic woman. And, unlike her, I have no connection with any of the parties.

  6. Chapters 7 & 8

    I had a an early night last night, and I haven’t yet looked back at what I said about the previous chapters before reading the new ones today.

    Following an eerie scene with a (un)trapped bird in the beams, a new leitmotif is added to the gestalt, with the hindsight-seen, journalistically ‘told’ visit of a gay lady journalist at the literally far-fetched Wylding Hall to report on the creation of ‘Wylding Hall’ by the already relatively famous Windhollow Faire. Through her auspices, we gain more of the house’s genius loci and the persona of long-fingered Julian, and the girl ‘apparition’ that has already been prefigured by a different ‘backstory’ narrator’s leitmotif.

    “What, like locking a bunch of monkeys in a room with typewriters until one of them writes Shakespeare?”
    This well-trod conceit is almost dropped in casually at some point. But just switch ‘monkeys’ to ‘birds’ and you have, in the context, a staggering new conceit.

  7. Chapters 9 & 10

    “Later, I was afraid they’d be angry I hadn’t told them sooner. I never told anyone, till now.”

    Another single bold-headed backstory of my reading of two chapters in this multi-leitmotifed feydom. I suspect that most of these backstories — unless they can leak into each other as perhaps happened earlier — have never been told to anyone “till now”. I often hope Julian would add his own backstory, the only protagonist so far who has not done so. These two chapters together tell entrancingly of false perspectives, one up and then down and up again a spiral staircase and the other from a mound in the seemingly distance-ensorcelled countryside around Wylding Hall. And they also deploy a possibly fuller picture of long-fingered Julian.
    I sometime speculate upon the literary device of the Unreliable Narrator, but here we have a whole range of suspects as leasehold narrators, including insiders and outsiders to Windhollow Faire but present supposedly at the events in question. Then there is the anonymous documentary-maker who is presumably collating (editing?) these backstories and, finally, we have the freehold author herself in supposed overall control. This creates all manner of possible permutations towards or away from the truth.
    But what of the unreliable real-time reviewer’s input, too, I hear someone ask? Thankfully I’m not connected with the book and have no influence on it. Although, some do propose that each time a book (especially a book like this one?) receives a new reader, it becomes a slightly different book. Well, I at least proposed it once – here in a previous real-time review!

    • An aside –
      Those following my trails closely may be interested in this connection described HERE about ‘A Choir of Ill Children’ that I have been concurrently reviewing alongside both this book and ‘A Head Full of Ghosts’. A trinity of reviews, as it’s panning out?

  8. Chapter 11

    I am now filled with a sense of being ‘on the hoof’ as it were, this real-time review recording its feelings section by section of Wylding Hall, and the Wylding Hall album itself recorded by Windhollow Faire chance by chance, also done on the hoof, with new equipment that didn’t need a studio. These chance-takes became the album itself, and the chance photos taken by a new outsider contributing his backstory – youthful son of the local farmer – who becomes innocently and emotionally entrammelled in these chance golden days, chance innocent photos used by later design for the album cover. A chapter beautifully painterly, and I am fascinated by the phenomenon of perceived ordinary human beings and their chance activities later becoming iconic…
    Caught by chance by chance shots and later hindsight of those involved and chance retentions by outsiders like the book’s author and the inner documentary she has created and the book’s readers, its reviewers. And perhaps the cinema film that ought to be made of all these factors!

  9. Chapter 12

    “Jimmy Page told me once that he listened to Wylding Hall a hundred times, trying to figure out Julian’s fingering on ‘Windhover Morn.'”

    …and out of the connections that I adumbrated in my previous entry or real-time backstory, there seems — as if by true magic, or some form of hippy faith, or artsy-fartsy airy-fairydom — a special point of conflux, an undreamt-about moment that worked with precise held-breath perfection, as they busk again in the village pub before a bunch of country bumpkins who later possibly morphed into a distant future would-be audience of Windhollow Faire aficionados. Busking this time special performances of the future album, with bespoke riffs, all of which summon that precise conflux as the presence of a fey waifly personification…?
    Perfect expression of rough perfection.

  10. Chapter 13

    “The story goes that there was a young man in the village who sang in the church choir. His voice was so beautiful that every Sunday, a mermaid would come out of the sea and walk up to the church and sit in the back just to hear him. I don’t know how she walked with a tail—they didn’t go into that. Eventually she converted to Christianity so she could marry him.”

    Forgive me making another long quote, but as in the plot itself this discrete anecdote needed to be told for undivulged reasons, but my reasons for including it in my review are different.
    There is an extraordinary scene in the pub and then later, as the personification is lightly adumbrated into a highly believable attractive figure that makes me feel dizzy with lightness; that reminds me that I have been suffering such dizzy spells in real life recently. And the later mysterious outcome and vanishment within the house — accompanied by a sort of reference by someone saying ‘Julian going off with another bird’ in the sexist parlance of theses times when Steeleye Span sang, I recall — is convincingly conveyed. A literary memory to conjure with.

    “Truth is, often Lesley got the fuzzy end of the lollypop.”

  11. Chapters 14 – 19

    “That was our golden moment—we were all young and beautiful and gifted and so incredibly fortunate to have found each other. That was the peak. It was pure serendipity…”

    Some relatively short chapters close this exquisite novel up to chapter 16. The group’s coda as three bonus tracks (17 – 19) is optional, I guess, as they were recorded no doubt after the ‘golden day’, and I would have opted out had I read them first. As someone with his own backstory weighing on this whole book, I think it is my right to do that. Move what happens after chapter 16 to my forthcoming dementia gap.
    I had some doubts in starting this novel – it did not seem my usual thing. But something at the back of my mind, something instinctive, made me buy it, and it all worked perfectly for me in the terms of the novel that now resides in my memory. The tale of the snaps taken by the farmer’s young son that golden day finding the light of another day is wondrously adumbrated. Belief is everything; I yearn to own a copy of that album and its cover – and meet those people who shared their backstories with mine.

    My own bonus track to this real-time review is to predict that, one day, they will be interviewing us various readers about our first reading of this novel and how it affected each of us and, of course, how each of us affected the book itself.


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