Robert Holdstock‘s Lavondyss is an exemplary novel, and one of the great works of fiction of the past century. It delves into the very root of storytelling and myth in a way that is unmatched in all of the writing I’ve been exposed to. It is a landmark in the fantasy genre and for storytelling in general.

Lavondyss initially tells the story of a young girl, Tallis, who develops an appreciation of and life founded on mysticism. Through her creation of masks, creation/discovery of stories and exploration of the land in which she lives (The story takes place in post-World War II England, in and surrounding Ryhope Wood.) she works to discover and rescue her lost half-brother, Harry. This search to reunite with her brother is the central thread of the novel and creates the eventual separation from her parents.

The story becomes increasingly complex and interlaced as it progresses. Much of the telling is non-linear, making it a challenging read, but also much more rewarding than it would otherwise be. Holdstock explores a Jungian-like theory that we all maintain a cultural memory of legends. Through blending story elements in unsuspected ways, exploring archetypes of stories, characters and landscapes, an enthralling mix of mythical and personal history emerges.

Tallis’ search takes her into Ryhope Wood, which houses a mythic forest through which she travels with various companions in the second half of the book. In this section of the book the more enticing imagery emerges and is a testament both to Holdstock’s folkloric knowledge and imaginative invention, which are employed equally well in this novel. The mythic wood embodies the themes of the stories told within it, its facets each intrical to the greater story.

While the theme of this story is prominent, the characters are quite facinating. I found Tallis, her father, and her mother to be the most interesting, likely because of their connection to the real world and their respective acceptance, wariness and denial of the mythical occurances happening around them. While Tallis’ growth may seem limited in maturity, it is very apparant that she has learned more about herself and reality as story closes.

Lavondyss is a superb and deeply satisfying novel. It has few peers in modern fiction, and evokes thought more than most novels. I’m very much looking forward to reading more of Holdstock’s works, and am expecting quality because of this example.

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