I read a lot last year. Much of it was mediocre, some of it bad, and a few books were shiny, glittering gems.
These are the jewels:
Wylding Hall by Elisabeth Hand
This is my no. 1 read last year, it still haunts me months after I finished – in a good way.
In the free-spirited 70’s a folk band is sent by their manager to Wylding Hall to work on their new album. During their stay they encounter a number of peculiar phenomenons and situations, culminating in the unexplained disappearance of their lead singer, the enigmatic Julian Blake. The story is told through a series of interviews with the remaining band members and acquaintances almost forty years later.
I fell head over heels for the unexplained mystery at the heart of the novel and the fascinating bits of folklore and legends. The ending sent chills down my spine.
Add to that great characters and beautiful writing, and it’s a winner.
Wrens are spooky birds!
I am quickly approaching 40, falling by every definition into the spinster category: unmarried, unwooed and with my very own cat collection (albeit a small one, counting only two). What does not appear in this picture however, is that I am already in a relationship; long-standing, demanding, at times quite awful, at other times worth it all. I have fallen under the spell of the worst guy of all: THE MUSE!
“But,” people say, “muses are Greek goddesses running across meadows in fluttering garments.” I laugh at them then, loud and shrilling. “No, I say, “Muses can take any shape they want. They are cunning and treacherous and quite possibly lethal. ONE thing is certainly for sure: they WILL take over your life.”
For the last couple of decades I’ve been a notorious collector of tarot decks. I think the main reason for this obsession (besides the obvious prettiness of the cards), is that I couldn’t get them where I grew up. As an aspiring wiccan in the early nineties I read books about the cards, marveled at their mysterious (or not so mysterious) origins, and their complex (or not so complex) symbolism. But there were nowhere to buy them in rural Norway at that time, and internet shopping was still not a thing, so I was left gawking at book pages with no chance of getting an actual deck.
I saw a deck once, at a music festival in Oslo. I was fourteen at the time, on vacation with my family – and had already blown my money on other trinkets and bubble gum. I hovered by the stall that had them on display for hours, aching in my little chest because I couldn’t get my paws on the shiny deck. I knew there was no way my mother would allow me to borrow money for something like that, so I had to leave empty handed.
Twenty-five years later it still hurts.
First, let it be known that I am not a knitter. I am hopeless at any craft involving fabrics, sticks or needles. I do, however, appreciate a good yarn. Literary yarn that is. Which is why I have zero patience with literary snobs of any kind. In fact, it seems to me they have misunderstood the concept of reading – or storytelling itself.
To me, there is no ‘wrong’ book – on the contrary: there’s a book for every occasion (yay!). Very much like food, really: some book are plain but healthy for you, then there’s the hearty meal, dripping with gravy, the refined meal that you savor slowly – and then there’s comfort food: completely useless – just fat and sugar – but oh! So good!
The Rose of Hever
I was first fascinated by Tudor history as a teen, after a chance encounter with a book at the library. I’d heard about the King with all the wives, of course, but never really given it much thought before I started reading about it. Then I was mesmerized: this was medieval soap opera; Dynasty and Falcon Crest was nothing compared to these real life characters and their games of power and love.
I was particularly taken with Anne Boleyn: the English girl who knocked a Spanish Princess off the throne, gave birth to the greatest Queen of all time – and was beheaded for her efforts. She seemed to me the perfect villain: dangerous and seductive. Of course, several books later, I know that the picture wasn’t as one dimensional as that.
Dinner at Dracula’s
I suppose it’s no secret at this point that I love books about houses. I’ve always been fascinated by ‘the haunted house’: its walls with secrets and history etched into the wood, dark cellars with rodents and mystery, chests full of memories… the monsters in the cupboards…
The popular interpretation of houses in dreams and literature is that it represents the self, which – to me – makes them even more fascinating: what secrets do you have stashed in the attic? What secret chambers? A banshee at you door…? A well-crafted house in a Gothic novel can be as complex and multilayered as the human psyche it (often) reflects. An abandoned house is a ghost in itself: the shell is there, but the inhabitant is gone, leaving only traces behind.
Nøkken (The Nøkk) by Theodor Kittelsen
The faeries of UK and Ireland have had another renaissance over the last few years, especially in YA literature and TV. I love it! I am extremely fond of faeries, and books about faeries – almost as fond as I am of books about witches. But as fond as I am of the Celtic faeries, I am slightly more fond of my native faeries – less known, but just as potent. Here’s a brief introduction:
We have always had faeries in Scandinavia, both dark and light. A strange and “unnatural” people living underground or inside mountains, eager to steal away children and pretty youths. The old Vikings knew well that what lay behind the borders of their farmland was something to fear. The Norse gods fought (and sometimes loved) the Jotne people of Utgard (aka. the wilderness), who later morphed into the iconic trolls. The Vanir god, Frey, ruled in Alfheim (“home of the elves”), maybe suggesting a tie between the fertility of the land and the elves. Maybe the Vanir themselves were considered “other”?