WILD NIGHTS by Emma Tennant


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Symbolic fantasy from the British author of The Bad Sister--a writer of some talent who can't quite seem to find the right vehicle for her mildly intriguing blend of self-conscious poetic prose, crisply matter-of-fact narration, and darkly quirky imaginings. Here we have the winter-to-spring perceptions of a young girl living with her parents in the mercantile family's imitation-castle in the North. And a clutch of fantastical uncles and aunts come and go, each of them profoundly changing the very physical nature of the house: Aunt Zita (hated by the narrator's jealous mother)--an earthy type with ""casual, wonderful powers"" who takes the narrator on ""evening flights"" in the sky to costume balls and such, who has incest with her beloved elder brother (in one of the many summonings-up of the past that occur hereabouts); stern Aunt Thelma, apparently representing the opposing forces of piety; and perverted Uncle Wilhelmina, who wears a gold-lamÉ suit and communes with parrots and lizards. The narrator also tags along with assorted villagers of varying witchcrafty leanings. But the winter of family tensions and Zita-flights and runnings-with-the-dogs must come to end with the approach of spring, and the family must go South, to the home of Uncle Rainbow--a house that's built like Chinese boxes (because of ""the searching eyes of the outside world""). And once there, much to-do is made about the coming and acceptance of spring. . . . Tennant's odd little book offers more than a few seductive moments and engaging images, and some of it works in a children's-book sort of way. But ultimately this mix of mysticism and family psychology seems only arbitrary and pretentious--polished but twiddling work by a writer who might do very well by hitching her muse to a less fanciful star.

Pub Date: June 9th, 1980
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich