Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy on July 14, 2015
Genres: Dark Fiction, Fiction, Gothic, Horror, Mystery, Occult & Supernatural, Psychological Horror, Suspense, Thriller
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A Shirley Jackson Award–winning short novel of unexpected terror from the highly acclaimed author of Waking the Moon.
When the young members of a British acid-folk band are compelled by their manager to record their unique music, they hole up at Wylding Hall, an ancient country house with dark secrets. There they create the album that will make their reputation, but at a terrifying cost: Julian Blake, the group’s lead singer, disappears within the mansion and is never seen or heard from again.
Now, years later, the surviving musicians, along with their friends and lovers—including a psychic, a photographer, and the band’s manager—meet with a young documentary filmmaker to tell their own versions of what happened that summer. But whose story is true? And what really happened to Julian Blake?
WYLDING HALL is the first book I have ever read by author Elizabeth Hand. My immediate impression was that I simply loved her writing style. Although this book is told through the point-of-view of multiple characters, even in “their voices'” her prose shone through. The story is told through a series of interviews, of sorts, with the individual members of a band–“Windhollow Faire”–and their manager, Tom Haring. Though it is implied that each person’s recounting of their story was isolated from the rest, the resulting tale flows as smoothly as if one person were to have written it all out in a single sitting.
The tale they told in small increments–in each person’s own, private reminiscence–is one that happened about 40 years prior, during a three month stay at a rented, half crumbling, mansion in the English countryside.
“. . . at the time, spending three months at a beautiful old wreck of a stately home in the English countryside seemed like a good idea . . . “
That idea was for the band to focus solely on creating a new album, without any interruptions or intrusions from others.
“. . . I didn’t have hindsight. When it came to Windhollow Faire, I was utterly blind.”
The band members consisted of Julian Blake–the lead, male singer/songwriter, Will Fogerty, Jon Redheim, Ashton Moorehouse, and their newly enlisted–American–female singer/songwriter, Lesley Stansall.
“. . . Word on the street was, Julian Blake was the most beautiful guy anyone had ever set eyes on . . . “
I went into this story without any preconceived notions. When I read the first few portions that were little more than a single person’s recollection of a certain day or incident, I’ll admit, I didn’t think it would amount to much.
“. . . I’m not afraid to say I don’t understand everything there is to know in this world . . . “
Within fifteen minutes, I imagine my jaw had dropped open as I continued on, spellbound by the tales before me. It was the differences in each person’s memory, or the things that garnered their particular attention, that made this book so much more than a standard “Whatever happened to . . . ?” type of cliched story. Hand doesn’t blatantly tell you how each member looks or what they believe happened, but through the voices of their friends–and to a lesser extent, their own words–I felt like I knew each of them intimately.
“. . . inexplicable–even better, inexplicable and terrible–things are always good for the music business, right? . . . “
Through these varied recollections on events long in their past, you begin to question: “Whose version is what really happened”?
If, in fact, any of them are.
“. . . there was a very, very weird vibe at Wylding Hall . . . There was a sense of wrongness, of things being out of balance . . . “
At times the prose made me feel like I was dreaming something magical and otherworldly. Yet at others, it could have been something as commonplace as eating a meal. However, the sense of mystery, of something nobody else was privy to, seemed the most dominant emotion in me.
“. . . in the old days they did things for a reason. And if you don’t understand why–well, you might end up opening a few doors better left closed . . . “
Even the few lyrics we are told could have held multiple meanings, dependent upon who was doing the reminiscing at the time. With some, it was a common folk song; with others, something much . . . deeper.
“. . . And if you kiss my cold lips, your days won’t be long . . . “
When you have such a variety of personalities talking about how THEY felt about a past occurrence they lived through, you’d expect a lot of discord and a disjointed tale that doesn’t really make any sense when you look at all the pieces before you.
“Have you ever noticed how we accord special privileges, almost magical powers, to people who are beautiful? Particularly if they’re beautiful and talented, like Julian . . . “
Yet in Wylding Hall, if you take a mental step back to look at the separate recollections, a faint, barely discernible, common thread begins to weave through them all, piecing things together in your mind.
“. . . everything gets broken eventually.”
These things may or may not be true, it is up to the individual reader to come to their own conclusions.
“. . . He wanted the album itself to be a kind of spell. An enchantment . . . “
Overall, I was so thoroughly impressed with the impact that these completely different voices and their personal outlooks had upon me, that I ended up buying a physical copy of this book to go on my shelves. While looking through it to check on a few facts and quotes, I found myself going to the beginning and re-reading the entire story completely.
The magic was still there.
“. . . colliers didn’t just bring the canaries into the mines to warn them . . . they took them down because they sang so beautifully, even in the dark.”
While the “facts” remain sporadic, few and far between, one thing you’ll come away with is the sense that this was destined to remain a mystery on paper. Each individual reader could easily arrive at their own, vastly unique conclusions.
“. . . we had accomplished something breathtaking with that session, and I believed it was a harbinger of great things to come . . . when in fact it was the opposite.”
I have my own ideas as to what happened during that three month seclusion the band took. I’m certain every other reader will come up with their own version that occurred there, as well. It all comes down to who you believe and which tales you connect. One thing is certain, I STILL can’t get this one out of my head.
Whose version of events do you most believe in?