A Trip Through Wylding Hall
I believe things for a reason, and in the old days they did things for a reason. And if you don’t understand why—well, you might end up opening a few doors better left closed.
Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand is billed as "a short novel of unexpected terror," a phrase that completely misses the mark of what Hand accomplishes. It's also a great example of why marketing for books is so difficult and often misconstrued.
First, let's be real here -- if you're telling me there is terror in a book, it's no longer "unexpected." Secondly, this story is not an in-your-face horror-fest but rather a quiet, subdued, character driven narrative that worked for me extremely well despite the misrepresentation in marketing.
The word that best describes this novella is haunting. It's not overdone, not trying to invoke dread where none is present, but there's this quiet sense of dread that carries from the very beginning all the way to its rightful conclusion. I dug it, but I often prefer subtlety over gallons of blood being dashed upon every page. So here's what you need to know before diving in:
-- The story is told an in interview style, with a documentarist interviewing members of the band, producers, or associated friends, regarding an incident that occurred. The style worked well for this story, particularly reminiscent of a "Behind the Music" like documentary. What I enjoyed most was that it quickly became invisible rather than drawing attention to itself, which is exactly what you want. Considering the music / band focal point of the story, I consider the style a strength in this particular novella, despite drawbacks inherent in its form.
-- The drama and intricacies of the bandmates were so well drawn out that you almost felt as if this group really existed. A lot of research was done and it clearly paid off and made for a fascinating behind the scenes look into this niche of folk-psychedelic rock. As a musician, I appreciated the authenticity that was brought into the characters and backdrop of the story and never once did any of it feel false.
-- From a "horror" standpoint, this is a muted slow-burn read, with pay-offs that are expected but just as fun to arrive at. There were no big twists or moments of shock, but the tale was just as satisfying without them. The more interesting part to me was how much of the story wasn't revealed in the novella, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps on their own.
A definite recommend from me for those looking for a fresh read or a different take on an otherwise traditional ghost story. This was a fun trip to fall into and one that has some lasting power.