Friday, July 31, 2009

Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand

I picked this up in Austin at Half Price Books after having one hell of a time finding a good independent used bookstore there. Where did I go wrong?

Anyway, Mortal Love was a great airplane book. Though it flirts with fairydom and myth, it is essentially a book about artistic inspiration and the dangers of courting such a tempestuous thing. Through a triple narrative following the lives of three men tortured by their relationship with art and their eventual relationship with a very seductive woman, Hand questions the relationship between madness and art, ponders the difference between a genius and a mere craftsman and works the phrase “scent of green apples” to the bone. By creating a world where inspiration is a ravenous, immortal being on a quest for her counterpart, Hand offers one view of a complicated subject. I have read few genre authors whose stories have art and artists as their central subjects and I find Hand’s dedication to excavating that world in inventive ways to be compelling despite some occasional clunky writing.

Some of her passages focusing on the aforementioned seductive woman and her witchy ways lean just this side of purple prose, but Hand does manage to deftly portray other kinds of characters: the asshole brother, the former rock star, the settled-for woman, the lost child. She is also great at setting a scene. Whether in a present-day London bohemian throwback apartment or wandering in a lonely dream home, the details seem to come alive—an important thing for a book about people who interpret sensation.

My only complaint is about the one-sidedness of this particular take on art. By having the wild woman crave only the art-juice of men, it excludes female creators from the discussion and put a dent in my appreciation of Hand’s inventiveness. Someone else will just have to write that book I guess.


Margaret said...

I liked Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World, but I read it awhile ago and I like all of his books. So this character is like an artist groupie? Yuck. And speaking of art, the cover of that book looks like barf. Thanks for the summary--I'm sure it's much better than the book itself!!

Carrie said...

The cover is indeed barf.

None of the characters are artists gruopies, exactly, the three main characters are truly art-damaged individuals, but how deep that turns out to be is up to the reader.

I enjoyed reading the book overall, but it certainly had a few eye rolling moments.