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Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand

Wylding Hall (2015)

by Elizabeth Hand

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First off, let me say I’ve always been a huge fan of English folk-rock, so this book about a group of English folkies at a haunted house held a charm for me from the get –go: which character is the fake Richard Thompson, which one is Nick Drake, which one is Sandy Denny, etc. One of the characters is something of a mystic, one is a scholar of British folklore – right up my alley. Aside from that, though, it’s just an exceptionally well told story.

Following the tragic death of one of the band members, the group’s manager sends them to a nice country house to rebound and to make music. Of course, it’s a creepy, eerie, scary house, with a creepy, eerie scary ghost in it. Everything goes south when the lead guitarist disappears, apparently after an assignation with a mysterious girl (see above, re: ghost).

The climax of the tale gave me literal chills, a rarity in my cynical and hard-to-scare old age. The ending give just enough resolution, but not too much, so there are questions left to haunt the reader after the last page. ( )
  CasualFriday | Jun 21, 2017 |
The members of a British folk band are spending the summer at Wylding Hall, composing music for the next album. But there is something mysterious with the manor and the group's lead singer, Julian Blake disappears within the manor and is never seen again.

Many years later the surviving musicians and people that knew them when they were at Wylding Hall will tell their story to a documentary filmmaker. Will Julian Blake's fate finally be revealed?

I found this book to be intriguing and the story was really peculiar. It took some time for me to get used to the form of the story, with everyone taking the turn telling what happened, from the beginning of the summer towards the end. But then again I never read the blurb before I started to read the book yesterday. I prefer to know as little as possible when it comes to stories. Especially stories like this one.

But when I got the hang on people and rhythm of the story, then I really started to enjoy the tale. This is just the kind of story I like, a haunted mansion, people seeing ghosts and very strange events. Something that left me a bit frustrated was that I really wanted to hear the band's music, this imagined band from a book. I was really keen to listen to the music because it “sounded” so wonderful. I wish they would make a movie of this book so that they can make real songs of the imagine songs in this book.

I liked this book very much and I will without a doubt read more Elizabeth Hand!

I received this copy from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review! Thank you! ( )
  MaraBlaise | Apr 14, 2017 |
A fantasy novel with a tinge of horror, [Wylding Hall] looks back to the early 1970s, when folk-rock bands were bringing modern rock-music instrumentation and sensibilities to traditional English music. Such a band, as the book imagines, was Windhollow Faire, in the months following the moderate success of their first album. At the urging of their producer, they decided to seek a higher artistic level through an intensive period of songwriting and practice. Over the course of one golden summer, they isolated themselves in a remote old manor, the eponymous Wylding Hall - far out in the English countryside, thoroughly out of touch with the city in that pre-mobile, pre-internet era. They expected the musical work, the sex, and the drugs - but not the old, dark, inhuman forces that inhabited the manor, awaiting the arrival of anyone properly attuned. That summer brought Windhollow Faire the creation of their finest album, but also the mysterious loss of the otherworldly Julian Blake, their songwriter and lead guitarist.

The novel comprises a collage of interviews, of the band members, their producer, and a few others, collected today, decades after that eventful summer. The characters' vivid, contemporary voices, the voices of now-old people recalling the passions of their teenaged and early-twenties selves, stand in conversation with each other. The picture of events the interviews build is complicated by their frequent disagreements, driven by differences of class and temperament. Hand employs here one of her signature fictional moves: an extraordinary event recalled, or sometimes revisited, in a contemporary setting after an interval of decades.

In an interesting interview on the Coode Street Podcast, Hand discusses the novel. In imagining Windhollow Faire, she was thinking of The Watersons (not very rock&roll, this piece) and Fairport Convention. However, my favorite band in the genre is Steeleye Span (Youtube links may break, or begin with ads). She also notes that the audiobook employs a different actor for each character, cleverly mirroring the multivocal structure of the story.

At 146 pages, the book is the perfect length for the tale. PS Publishing has done a beautiful job of the book's design and production. [Wylding Hall] is an atmospheric, nostalgic, haunted-house story, rooted in music and its power in our lives. ( )
6 vote dukedom_enough | Apr 9, 2016 |
A beautiful, eerie, convincing novel.

Fans of Elizabeth Hand will recognize many of the themes and elements that she likes to return to. (In particular, it reminded me in feel of her story 'The Erl King.') Music, subcultures and magic entwine to create a web that will enrapture the reader just as surely as it entraps her characters.

After a tragedy, the manager of the folk-rock group Windhollow Faire comes up with a plan to keep the band away from unfavorable publicity and get them started on a sophomore album. He rents out a rambling old manor house in a remote corner of England, and sets the band up with a rehearsal space there. His rules are: no friends, no journalists, no groupies. Just music. And they do indeed make wonderful music - the recordings from that summer are acknowledged to be better than anything any of them created before or since. But a bunch of wild hippie teenagers can't be expected to abide by too many rules.

And, it's hinted from the beginning, something else besides music happened that one wild summer. Something else besides drugs and sex, too.

The book proceeds from the idea that there's been a recent resurgence of interest in the music of Windhollow Faire, and a series of interviews on the topic of that summer at Wylding Hall is being conducted.

At first, the format is a little disorienting, as we read answers from people without being quite sure who they all are - but soon enough, the characters are firmly and vividly established, each with their own distinct voice and perspective. It captures a certain time period (the early 70's) and 'scene' perfectly (you can virtually hear the music), and adds in elements of pagan custom, ancient magic, and haunted house tales.

It works so well, because of the characters - how each person is affected (or not) is influenced by who they are. The crafted scenarios make even the oddest events plausible. Just enough is explained, and just enough left as enigma.

A lovely book, and highly recommended.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are my own. ( )
1 vote AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
An acid folk group in the very early seventies hires the eponymous country manor to rehearse and record their second album (following the suicide of the group’s original singer; she was also the girlfriend of the band’s main creative force). Wylding Hall is a strange place, but this novella doesn’t go for in-your-face ghosts and apparitions but a much more effective general atmosphere of uncertainty. Windhollow Faire come across as a believable band, and the links to the darker side of English folklore are well-handled. The story is told as the decades-later reminiscences of the band members, a technique which is especially effective as it gives it the authority of a Sky Arts documentary. I have only a couple of minor niggles – back then, a grammar school would have been more posh than a comprehensive, and Radio 3 – not BBC 3 – was always more into classical and jazz, not folk; and John Peel was on Radio 1, which was the station mostly likely to play electric folk at that time. ( )
1 vote iansales | Feb 3, 2016 |
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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?
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