“Wylding Hall” by Elizabeth Hand

Wylding hall

“Wylding Hall,” tells the story of a group of folk-rock musicians who spend the summer of 1972 in a remote Manor House in the wilds of Hampshire to put their second album together. By the end of the summer, the lead singer, a beautiful but shy young man who is fascinated by the “Magik” with a K, Alistair Crowley style, has disappeared without a trace.

The story is told in a series of modern day, rockumentary style interviews with members of the band, their manager, a psychic girlfriend, a music journalist and local boy who briefly played roadie/photographer.

This format makes the story perfect for being turned into an audiobook. The version I listened to had a different narrator for each person being interviewed. Apart from an article written at the time by the journalist, there was no text beyond the statements made by the interviewees.

The book cuts from one interviewee to the next, revealing events with bit by bit. It’s easy to imagine the once beautiful, now ageing musicians, seated against a dark background and speaking directly to camera.

The story has a paranormal feel to it but leaves room for other interpretations – just about. To me, it seemed slightly spooky rather than chilling.

What held my interest was how clearly the characters were defined by the way they gave their account of events. They were heavy on nostalgia, looking back on the golden summer of their youth and that gave me permission to be nostalgic too. I liked the way their accounts were inconsistent with one another, in the way in which any long-ago event that has since become legend will be.

The chaotic, semi-childish, drug-enabled way the young people live in their isolated house, the fugue that they fall into when spending their whole time making music seemed real to me.

The introduction of the supernatural elements was subtle. Ideas were wound around the history of the house, the warnings contained in the old folk songs they studied, the strange woods surrounding a Long Barrow and the pictures in the local pub of Wren Hunting.

It was an entertaining way to spend four hours, although it seemed to me that the drug and sun-soaked summer of seventy-two was a stranger land to visit than any of the hinted-at faerie realms touching the house.

 

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