Picks and Pans Review: Mortal Love

updated 08/02/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/02/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Elizabeth Hand

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A literary page-turner, this deeply pleasurable eighth novel by the author of the cult classic Waking the Moon is composed of interwoven narratives about three men: Radborne, a poor Edwardian painter; Valentine, his bipolar grandson; and Daniel, a contemporary journalist who is writing a book about Tristan and Iseult, the mythical couple destroyed by their own love. The men share an obsession with the same woman—an immortal femme fatale (is she a ghost? a demon? a goddess?) who both inspires and tries to destroy them. (She's a muse for Radborne, a trigger for Valentine's illness and a lover for Daniel.) Hand ambitiously (and deftly) explores the complex connection between art and madness, sex and death, love and mortality. Despite the divergent narrative strands and the absence of anything resembling a traditional plot, Hand's lushly worded tale is consistently gripping. It may not always make perfect sense, but logic is beside the point: Like all great fantasy fiction, Love inhabits a world between reason and insanity—it's a delightful waking dream.


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