Katherine Mulley had been dead for five years and two months, the morning Isabelle received the letter from her.
I’ve read a few of De Lint’s books in recent years (and how old does typing that make me feel) but I think this may be my favourite so far. It tells the story of Isabelle Copley, an artist who has, in many ways, retreated from the world to live in isolation on an island, and the beings her paintings breathe life into. The story takes place over twenty years, and a lot is told through flashbacks, as well as the odd journal entry. The majority of the story we see through Isabelle’s eyes (though not in first person), but there are few others who have bits and pieces to tell us as well. The use of flashbacks and these different narrators means that the reader is never sure what happened in the past. Important events seem so different depending on the character, but it never gets so frustrating that I wanted the author to have used a different story-telling device.
As I said in my first sentence I think this is my favourite of all De Lint’s books that I’ve read. It seems a much more complete novel than some of the others. The characters are well developed, each with their own personality, their faults and failings as well as their strengths. The story too is well constructed. Just enough is revealed to stop you from tossing it in annoyance, but enough is kept hidden so you want to read on and find out what is going to happen as well as what has happened in the past.
I think that De Lint used parts of this book to express his own views on those who refuse to recognise that just because a book is part of a genre that doesn’t mean that it can’t have more meaning. One of the main characters is a writer and we get to read her response to a critic who can’t divorce the genre of fantasy from anything but “lies”. You all know my views on such destructive labelling so I won’t bother to say that I agree with De Lint.
There is also another thread running through the book, one that I’d definitely agree with, and that is that people construct the truth. About themselves, and about others. Sure, there are some things which are absolutes. But the big important things in life? Those are usually only opinions and thoughts. And that we really have very little clue what another person thinks; we just assume that they think along similar lines.
So we go floundering through galleries and books and theater presentations, taking what we can, always looking over somebody else’s shoulder to compare it to what they got, readjusting out own interpretations, until somewhere in the process we end up having processed entirely different experiences from the same source material. Which is okay, except that when we talk about it, we still think we’re referring to the same thing.
De Lint also has a similar argument about how we construct personalities; both for ourselves and for others. Isabelle decides at one point that she isn’t Isabelle any more, she is Izzy. Sure it is just a name change, but it is also more symbolic than that. She doesn’t want to be that first person so she construct another version of herself. And in a new environment, where people didn’t know that early person, she is free to be someone new. However, it isn’t all one way, other people, through their expectations and reactions, can create a version of you, or keep you from changing your construct.
Eh, that’s all very deep and possibly off-putting, so I’ll reassure you by saying that the book isn’t as boring as I’ve just made it out to be. It is a great read, full of myth and fantasy, and I’m guessing that any fan of De Lint will really enjoy it.