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May 14, 2010

Book Notes - Elizabeth Hand ("Illyria")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Elizabeth Hand's storytelling skills and insightful prose has always impressed me. Her new novel Illyria is an engaging fantasy novel about two cousins, whose love mirrors that of the couple in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Hand is equally talented at portraying the couple's young love as well as the taboos surrounding their incestuous relationship, and the paranormal aspects of the story are truly haunting.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Winner of the World Fantasy Award, Hand’s slim novella is sublime and daring; she makes no mystery about the nature of the 15-year-old cousins’ relationship. It’s as sweet, sexual, obsessive, and devastating as any other first love. YA readers are entrusted with a narrative of burgeoning and squandered talent, unapologetic incest, familial decline on par with that of Faulkner’s Compson family, and a hard-won ending that’s, at best, tenuously hopeful. The subtlety and raw ache of the prose, and the realistic portrayal of artistic lives, triumphantly heralds Hand’s arrival into youth fiction."

In her own words, here is Elizabeth Hand's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Illyria:

About Illyria

This is the one story I have always wanted to write. I began it in 1974, when I was seventeen and my boyfriend and his friends were cast in Twelfth Night. I became obsessed with the boy who played Feste, the clown, and also with the play itself. Over the years I've attempted various versions of this, beginning with my first novel Winterlong in 1990. Illyria finally nailed it, and received the World Fantasy Award (when it was published in a very small UK edition in 2007). The real-life Rogan remains my oldest and closest friend.

Illyria is about Maddy and Rogan, first cousins in a legendary theatrical dynasty whose fortunes and talents have precipitously declined. The two fall as love as teenagers in the early 1970s, and their obsession with each other and with acting sets off a chain of events that scars them both for life. Before that happens, they're cast in a production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night where real magic happens, the kind that only erupts in the theater. This setlist is mostly 1970s stuff, and goes from pure sugar, for adolescent passion, to the Velvet Underground-tinged rock and roll that Rogan would have been performing, and ends with more melancholy, yet still hopeful, songs for Maddy & Rogan's adult reunion.

"Bridges and Balloons," Joanna Newsom [2004]

Newsom's album The Milk-Eyed Mender was on heavy rotation when I wrote Illyria. This song captured the wistful, fragile mood of first love I was trying to evoke, where the lovers are scarcely more than children themselves.

"No Matter What," Badfinger [1970]

The Big Bang for what became known as Power Pop. I still have this 45.

"Alright," Supergrass [1975]

Britpop's finest hour, and proof that rock and roll's DNA remains unchanged as the decades pass. The miracle is that Supergrass's teeth remained ‘nice and clean' despite this song's sky-high sugar content.

"Magic," Pilot [1974]

Pilot was a band started by former members of the Bay City Rollers. I mostly like this song because it makes a great segue to …

"Rollers Show," Nick Lowe [1978]

From Lowe's legendary 1978 debut, Pure Pop for Now People (itself a nod to the Turtles' legendary 1968 concept album The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, where each song was done in the style of a different group & genre). I never even liked the Bay City Rollers, but Lowe's song always makes me think they should have been my favorite band.

"This is a Song," Magic Numbers [2006]

An Irish band made up of two sets of brothers & sisters who met as students at a Catholic high school, therefore a perfect group for this book. I saw them perform this at a "secret" show at the Iceland Airwaves Festival in Reykjavik, 2007. Fabulous band, and even better live.

"Story in Your Eyes," Moody Blues [1971]

When I was a teenager, every weekend there was a Battle of the Bands at a local high school. One Saturday a group called Darktown Strutters covered this, a great rocker by the Moody Blues — their 17-year-old guitarist did an incredible solo, far better than Justin Hayward's. Can't recall if they won, but they should have.

"Rebel, Rebel," David Bowie [1974]

My favorite song to dance to with my boyfriend Steve (who was a fantastic dancer), covered ubiquitously at 1970s Battle of the Bands.

"Metal Guru," T Rex [1972]

When The Slider came out, I thought this was the funniest song I ever heard. One of my favorite Bolan tunes, out of dozens.

"Talent Show," The Replacements [1989]

I love this song like St. John loved the Lord — it sums up everything about being a teenager onstage for the first time.

'Ain't much to look at, so
Close your eyes and here we go
Playin' at the talent show
We might even win this time, guys, you never know ...'

"Pleasant Valley Sunday," The Monkees [1967]

Best opening line ever: "Your local rock group down the street is trying hard to learn this song." From the Goffin-King hit factory, a pop song that tosses suburban ennui and consumerism onto the Weber grill, douses them in lighter fluid then sends the whole thing up in flames with its famous, apocalyptic fadeout (mono on the 45, re-recorded in stereo for the album release).

"Rock & Roll," The Velvet Underground (Quine Tapes) [1969]

This is the live version recorded by the sixteen-year-old Robert Quine, using a cheap tape recorder, on November 25, 1969, at the Matrix. The same performance is on the VU's Live 1969 album, recorded by the club's personnel, but I prefer this low-fi version (along with the mindblowing 25-minute "Sister Ray" that comes later in the set).

"Ballad of Mott the Hoople," Mott the Hoople [1972]

A brilliant and, for the 1970s, unusually clear-eyed look at the dark side of performing. Rock and roll's a loser's game ...

"The West's Awake," The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem [1964]

Makem's vocals on the live version of this still makes my hair stand on end. A lament that becomes a triumphant call-to-arms, this is the song Rogan sings when he first realizes his gift.

"We Three, Patti Smith" [1978]

"The way I see him is the way I see myself." Smith supposedly wrote this for Tom Verlaine, but I've always believed it's really about Robert Mapplethorpe.

"Man in the Moon," REM [1992]

Elegy for an entire 1970s childhood, in a single heartbreaking musical time capsule.

"Giant Step," Taj Mahal [1970?]

Another Goffin-King classic, originally done by the Monkees, recast as this lovely, hopeful gem by blues great Taj Mahal.

"Phantom Limb," the Shins [2007]

I still have no idea what this song is about — the guy misses someone like a phantom limb, right? Anyway, I love it.

"This is Where I Belong," the Kinks

Originally recorded in 1966 for Face to Face. I didn't hear it till 1972, when it came out on Kink Kronikles. For Maddy's return to her childhood home.

"Northern Sky," Nick Drake [1970]

I think this is the most beautiful love song ever recorded. I always save this for when I'm writing the end of a story and I want to bring tears to a reader's eyes. Works for me.

Elizabeth Hand and Illyria links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
the author's blog

Bish's Beat review
Forever Young Adult review
Green Man Review review
Mainstream Fiction review
The Mumpsimus review
Tempting Persephone review

Bibliophile Stalker interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for her novel Generation Loss
Odysseyworkshop interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly highlights of comics & graphic novels)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly highlights of new books)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from this week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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