Sunday, September 20, 2009

Book Review - Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand

There have been many claims that there is a connection between creativity and madness; famous artists, writers, and others with their gift for beyond the mundane appear to the outsider to be touched with a spark of insanity; where else could some of our creative accomplishments come from? For those of us on the inside, however, it is a complexly different experience; a world in which only the few many enter and even less could ever possibly leave not voluntarily. Speaking as a creative person myself, I find this to be true; my stories for my novel and future books come from something deep within me, something that people on the outside could never understand and if they did, would run away in fright. There is also the theory that creative people use Muses as guides for their work, for they remove all blocks from the mind, leading to a full immersion of the world only they know of. Throughout history, the Muse has been viewed from a source of creativity to madness itself to a destructive force tamed by the artist and so on.

Muses have been worhsipped, feared, reviled, and loved during the history of humankind and their presence will never go away, even if it means death to the artist. Such is the case with Elizabeth Hand’s memerizing novel Mortal Love. The novel tells of three very different yet similar stories of artistic men influenced by a woman who is clearly not of this world. While one story takes place in the 1800s and the other two take place in present time, the woman in all three is the same. She is of legend and myths told long ago, a woman who cannot remember her true name or her lives from before. Normal people are drawn to her because she represents what artists spend most of their lives looking for; true creative freedom with the willingness to let everything go. She is unhindered and wild but is a grave danger to those who are not like her. When she loves someone, she literally steals a piece of their life and their sanity away from them, leaving them wanting only more while knowing that more of her would certainly kill them. Such is the price and yet those within the three stories would gladly pay it.

Hand’s writing quickly drew me in from the beginning and refused to let me go until the very end; once I reached the end of the novel, I was saddened to see it end and even re-read the last page just to make sure I did not miss anything important in her words. Hand writes as a writer who has experienced her tales on a personal level. Did Hand experience the seductive and life threating touch of the Muse of whom she wrote of? Was there someone in her life that influenced her greatly in her life as a writer that was beyond all human comprehension? Did the strange green colour mentioned in her work tempt her as well? Whatever the case may be, Mortal Love gives insight as to the world of the creatives and the Muses that support and, in some cases, destroy those whom they love. In order to create, one must be willing to sacrifice a piece of themselves, knowing that they cannot ever get it back. The Muse shows us the way; all we can do is follow.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Book Review - Him, Her, Him Again, The End of Him by Patricia Marx

How far would you go for love? Would you give the object of your affections flowers every day, or perhaps perform serenades outside their homes while ignoring the complaining neighbours? Would you follow them to the ends of the earth, even while knowing that they do not and cannot possibly love you back? Would their denial of love for you only increase yours for them? Love is a wonderful (and dangerous) thing; it can make us feel as light as a feather, or cause us to go on a downward spiral of gloom and depression while writing heart wrenching poetry during a rainy day. Love affects all of us and no one is a stranger to it. Take, for example, the unnamed female narrator of Patricia Marx’s black humoured novel Him, Her, Him Again,The End of Him; our narrator is an Oxford graduate student who idolizes Sylvia Plath, loves books for the simple sake of having them in her room, and would much rather change her focus of study several times rather than actually focus on the art of studying. She is the epitome of university students everywhere and is yet the worst example of them; what she lacks in pursuing a graduate degree she makes up for in her own cerebral wit and charm.
Our narrator lives in her tightly knit and eccentric world of stimulating intellectual conversations against a backdrop of England without too many worries except for when the next check from her parents will arrive. And then, it all changes, thanks to a man named Eugene. Whereas our narrator is a dilettante of academia, endlessly fluttering around without any care, Eugene is a scholar of the obscure and archaic, a student of the world, and a narcissist that will leave you screaming and running for the hills. The two fall for each other during a date one night, instantly leading to a motley array of years filled with hypochondriac women, the birth of a child named Perseus, the opening of a crepe store in Ethiopia, a job involving eating candy bars, pseudo-intellectualism and its strange attraction to those who profess it, and much more that could only be thought of by a former writer of Saturday Night Live.
The humour at the beginning of the book was steady, giving the reader no room to breathe between paragraphs or while turning the pages. As the novel and the main relationship progresses, the humour begins to plateau and even falter somewhat; the narrator does nothing to change her unbearable situation with Eugene but instead finds some way to perpetuate it for it appears that that is what defines her in some sad and pathetic way. She remains an indecisive and wasteful young woman, one who skates by with barely an effort on anything and yet has a strange sense of good luck on her side at times. Her relationship with Eugene slowly descended into something wasteful and several times I found myself wondering why I was still reading the book. Only towards the end was there some form of redemption but I will always wonder if it came too late and too melodramatic in the narrator’s life. When I finished the book, I had no love for the narrator at the beginning and it remained the same to the end. If that was Marx’s ultimate goal in writing this book, then she did a grand job.