This, in my opinion, is Weird Fiction done right.
First, it works as Fiction, without the Weird. That is to say, it’s a story about a Folk Rock Band who rented a house in the countryside in the early 1970s to record an album. That story is engaging, told in a documentary style, with different voice actors playing the parts of band members and others such as the band’s managers, reporters, and the like.
It’s a kind of memoir of the Psychedelic Era, like Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool Aid Acid Test or Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels. The drama of the band recovering from the somewhat suspicious suicide of their former lead singer and dealing with the intensity of being isolated together in a remote location, with all of the attendant emotional undercurrents, would have held my interest by itself.
Second, the Weird aspects are understated and subtle. They are kept in the background for most of the novel–strange things glimpsed out of the corner of the reader’s eye. Since it’s told as if the characters are retelling the story years after the fact, there’s a lot of “At the time it didn’t mean much to me, but after what came later…”
That kind of exposition takes a light touch, and Elizabeth Hand does it well, varying the mix of the mundane and the uncanny to keep the reader off-balance and wanting to find out more.
Most important to me, she keeps the sense of Mystery, in a cosmic sense, to the very end. Reviewers on Audible complain that she never explains what happened at Wylding Hall–I consider that a feature, not a bug. The different characters have their own theories, but there is never any big reveal that tears away the veil.
I like that. When the end of the book came I felt a pleasant chill and a sense of a vast dark universe, full of unknown wonders and unanswerable questions.