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Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand

Mortal Love

by Elizabeth Hand

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This is one of those books that is REALLY hard to put into a category. Is it fantasy? Is it supernatural? Is it a psychological thriller? It has elements of all three and a touch of historical fiction, but it doesn’t dwell in any of these. Instead it dwells in mythic darkness, madness, sexual longing, dire warnings and artistic agony. But in a good way.

Early on I was put in mind of Iain Pears’s The Dream of Scipio because of the way Hand layers time and consistency with some elements such as the acorn motif and the color green. She also laces together multiple timelines replete with the fanciful and the mundane. Later in the book I was reminded of A Maggot by John Fowles and that was mostly because of what I’m going to call hallucinations on a page. Pieces of the story that leave the bounds of reality behind and make you go back over paragraphs and paragraphs looking for the point you missed; the disconnection.

The three main narratives are at first confusing, but there are many small details that pull them together; Val Comstock in the modern time is the descendent of Radborne Comstock in the past timeline. Radborne was a painter and did studies related to Tristram and Isolde which is the subject of Daniel Rowlands’s latest writing project. They are also bound to one another through their obsession with a mysterious woman; a muse with green eyes and an allure so powerful she has driven other men mad. One of them is confined to a mental hospital run by a Dr. Thomas Learmont. The hospital also confines one Evienne Upstone, a chestnut haired beauty with haunting green eyes. The very same woman who captivated Radborne’s attention on Blackfriar Bridge and who has been invading his psyche both awake and in dreams. So he paints, frenetically and eventually ends up on an island on the coast of Maine. It is to there that Russell Learmont, present-day captain of industry, sails to acquire the other half of a Radborne Comstock painting that he already owns.

There’s more, oh so much more, so many threads that you better take good notes or have a prodigious memory. Each revelation and insight is a joy that sizzles through your brain and once you start to see the whole, you’ll be staggered by its entirety. Imaginations like this don’t come along often and I’m grateful that Hand has one and can write like a dream as well. ( )
4 vote Bookmarque | Sep 10, 2015 |
There is a twinge of terror in the heart of any good fairy tale - a touch of awe, or a sense of how small we really are in the face of the unknown, tiny mortal creatures huddled together in the dark. Hand captures this feeling better than anyone, and it lends a delicious, haunting edge to this story about the pleasures and perils of courting the muse. ( )
1 vote paperloverevolution | Mar 30, 2013 |
A part of me would rather not talk about MORTAL LOVE.

The books I love the most sometimes render me incoherent. This incoherent state generally goes hand in hand with verbosity--I have tons to say, but I don’t know exactly how I want to say it.

This is sort of like that, but upside down. I loved MORTAL LOVE and am sure I could say tons about it in as incoherent a fashion as one might wish, but I rather want to keep it for me.

I’ve obviously chosen to ignore this impulse (spurred on, of course, but a The People Need To Know mentality), but I felt you should know where I stand.

Okay. Let’s get on with this.

Even though MORTAL LOVE came with a highly respected friend's seal of approval, I found the first chapter so confusing, and so devoid of a thread I could follow through to a satisfying story, that it looked like dark days ahead. I braced myself to abandon it by Chapter Three, after which point I would conveniently forget to mention I had ever tried to read it.

I was in love with it by page 20.

The People Magazine review excerpted on the cover calls MORTAL LOVE "a delightful waking dream;" as accurate a descriptor as I could hope for, with the caveat that the reviewer clearly shares my somewhat unconventional definition of "delightful." The novel is often dark, often wretched, often disturbing. Delightful if you’re up for that sort of thing; depressing if you’re not.

The waking dream bit, though, needs no qualifier. The story is dreamlike in the extreme, merging one scene with the next as smoothly as water flowing over polished stones. It provides few concrete answers, yet it’s never confusing or opaque. Hand spells little out, but the book’s structure encourages the reader to make every connection she needs. We know exactly what’s going on, despite the lack of overt confirmation.

MORTAL LOVE is a book about madness and art and intercourse between worlds (in all senses of the word). Like all the best dreams, it’s wild and dangerous and barely controlled, with a bizarre and vivid story at its heart.

It spans centuries, commenting on art and the soul and the very nature of creation.

It’s rich and strange; grounded and ethereal.

It reminded me of THE VINTNER’S LUCK, and of THE NIGHT CIRCUS.

It made me want to create.

It has me halfway convinced I should have asked more from it, but I’m not sure what else it could have given me without undermining itself.

It refuses to get out of my head.

I think you should read it, sooner rather than later.

(This review originally appeared on my blog, Stella Matutina.) ( )
1 vote xicanti | Mar 13, 2013 |
Elizabeth Hand is one of my favorite writers, and this is my favorite of her novels. Mortal Love is about a muse, whose name changes depending on the time and to who she appears, but whose eyes are always very bright green, and the men who are taken under her spell. Probably the thing I like best about this novel is its nimbleness and balance. Hand is equally comfortable writing in Victorian London as she is in a bohemian and ramshackle mansion on the coast of Maine in the 1970s. This is a powerful novel of romantic and artistic obsession. It is terrifying and sensual and wise. ( )
2 vote kougogo | Nov 25, 2009 |
Three narrative threads intertwine in this dark fantasy of artistic inspiration and madness. In late Victorian-era London, young American painter Radborne Comstock meets and becomes obsessed with the beautiful Evienne Upstone, an auburn-haired and green-eyed artist’s model who has already served as the muse for several other artists and who has driven many of the insane by virtue of her sheer beauty and otherworldly presence. Decades later, Comstock’s grandson Valentine views his grandfather’s paintings of Evienne and is in turn inspired to create intricately detailed artworks in which a red-haired, green-eyed woman is at the same time a lush fairytale landscape. Valentine’s obsession with the woman…whom he named Vernoraxia…drives him, too, to the edge of madness and he ends up medicated and numbed. In contemporary London, American writer Daniel Rowlands is researching the legend of lovers Tristan and Iseult and ends up caught in the spell of Larkin Meade, a red-haired, green-eyed woman whose strange passion leaves him deranged and obsessed.

Parallels and emotional resonances shared between the three narratives suggest that, somehow, Evienne and Larkin are the same woman, or the same being—a muse, perhaps, or a force of nature too strong for mere mortals to love without madness but whom artists and writers are compelled to render imperfectly over and over in painting, poetry, and legend.

Rich, evocative, lyrical, and vibrant, “Mortal Love” wonderfully captures the exquisite lunacy of artistic expression and the urge to create. Authentic period detail and references to real-life artists combine with lushly poetic language to captivate readers much as the mysterious red-haired muse about whom Hand writes captivates artists. ( )
2 vote kmaziarz | Apr 1, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060755342, Paperback)

In the Victorian Age, a mysterious and irresistible woman becomes entwined in the lives of several artists, both as a muse and as the object of all-consuming obsession. Radborne Comstock, one of the early twentieth century's most brilliant young painters, is helpless under her dangerous spell.

In modern-day London, journalist Daniel Rowlands meets a beguiling woman who holds the secret to invaluable -- and lost -- Pre-Raphaelite paintings, while wealthy dilettante-actor Valentine Comstock is consumed by enigmatic visions.

Swirling between eras and continents, Mortal Love is the intense tale of unforgettable characters caught in a whirlwind of art, love, and intrigue that will take your breath away.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In a tale that explores the link between creativity and madness, artist Radborne Comstock interacts with a captivating woman who both inspires him and becomes an object of obsession.

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