Illyria/Elizabeth Hand: Reflections

Monday, August 9, 2010

Elizabeth Hand was always a cut-above writer. One need only take a tour of her web site, where she posts journal entries from her 16th year, for proof.  What can you say about yourself when you are sixteen etc. years old and the world is either terribly hard or wonderfully simple on account of the world 'love'? she wrote then.  It was less like building a house than colonizing an island, this freakish, lovely, marvelous atoll that rose from the gray wasteland of St. Brendan's High School like some extravagant Atlantis we'd willed into being, she writes now, in Illyria.  All of our previous alliances and identities were tossed aside—jock, freak, egghead, cheerleader, anonymous.

Illyria introduces cousins, Maddy and Rogan, born on the same day and young teens when the story begins in 1970s Yonkers.  Left mostly to their own devices, indispensable to one another, predisposed to theatrics and magic, they know no bounds, this Maddy and Rogan.  They live life at its most urgent.  When they are cast in a high school production of "Twelfth Night," they are brilliant together and wild together, feral and dangerous and suddenly, in the eyes of their extended clan, in need of taming.  Their love affair is doomed and desperate.  Its vestiges will haunt Maddy for the rest of her life.

And, indeed, Maddy tells this story from the perspective of well on—from all those years later, when the intimate details are yet fresh and vivid, but the how-this-story-ends is well-known, too.  Many things will strike a reader about Illyria—its unapologetic intelligence, its unashamed incest, its nearly supernatural force—but perhaps it is the novel's point of view that struck me with greatest impact, the sense that Hand is writing out of the vulnerable, present need to make sense of a time and a place at once mystical and rooted in brand and street names.  Fog floats across the gorgeous cover and fog floats throughout the book, but never at the expense of a clenching specificity. It happened, but it couldn't have.  It was, but it isn't.  It's now because then is always now.  All of that is here.

One can always tell the difference between a story that beckoned an author—suggested itself, teased—and one that demanded.  Illyria made demands on Hand.  She answered them, resolutely.


bermudaonion said...

Wow, the book sounds lovely.

Becca said...

How intriquing, to think about a book that "makes demands on the author." You would certainly know about that, too.

Must read this.

Bee said...

Illyria is absolutely delectable.

septembermom said...

Even your reviews sound poetic to me. Wonderfully done.

Vivian Mahoney said...

I just bought this book and will be reading it very soon!

Julia said...

This sounds like such a fascinating, unapologetic book. I love the unapologetic kind.

  © Blogger templates Newspaper II by 2008

Back to TOP