May 28, 2007

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

The very first time I heard about this book was when Neil Gaiman defined it as “a detective story about why we need magic”. In the foreword to this edition, he further defined it as “a travelogue or a history”, “a low comedy, a high comedy, a ghost story and a detective story”, and, finally “a little golden miracle of a book”.

I agree that this book is all those things, and more. It’s an absolutely delightful story, and I cannot say how very glad I am to have read it at last. I found it funny and mysterious and frightening just in the right amount, and, on top of that, it’s beautifully and very elegantly written.

Hope Mirrlees uses language masterfully – every word feels like the exact right choice to achieve the overall effect. There are sentences that sound like poetry, there are descriptions that are absolutely beautiful, and still nothing is ever overdone. The meanings are never obscured, and all the words help create the exact right mood for the world in which this story takes place.

Reading this book, I could not help but be reminded of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. These books are all different, of course, and yet I think I can say that, without Lud-in-the-Mist, the latter two would probably not have existed, or would at least not have been quite the same. I think it’s fair to say that Lud-in-the-Mist paved the way for novels like these.

Lud-in-the-Mist is the name of the village in which this story, or part of it, takes place. It is much like Neil Gaiman’s Wall in the sense that it is a village located on the borders of Faerie. And yet, unlike in Stardust, we do not follow a hero or heroine who crosses that border. For most of the story, Faerie remains in the background, but its presence, alluring and chilling and mysterious, is always palpable.

For me, this story is about the necessity of embracing the ambiguities of life – the certainty of death, the fact that there will always be things we don't fully control, and that menacing shades will always lurk in familiar things.

The country of Dorimare, where Lud-in-the-Mist is located, had tried to ban this ambiguity by cutting ties with Faerie and banning fairy fruit. But with it went art, and the Dorimarites began to live in a stiff sort of reality that did not quite manage to hide the fact that life is much more scary if you try to pretend it isn't scary at all.

In Lud-in-the-Mist, Faerie stands for ambiguity, for mystery, for fear, for dreams – for things that human beings cannot quite be human without.

Other Blog Reviews:
Framed and Booked
Jenny's Books
Books & Other Thoughts


  1. I hadn't heard of this one until seeing your blog post. It sounds like a great read. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I haven't heard of this one either! Oh, it sounds good!! Guess I will have to add it my TBR!! Lord, it's getting so big, I'm never going to get through it!

  3. Ah, I can't wait to read this one. I've heard so much about this one and it's ALL good. And duh, Gaiman recommended it, so I have to read it ;)

  4. I'm looking forward to getting to this one sometime soon. I own it, but its just been sitting on the rather large pile!

  5. I am so pleased you enjoyed it! As you know, I adore Lud-in-the-Mist.

    Great review!

  6. literary feline and stephanie: unfortunately it seems that this book is a hidden gem. I wish it was as well-known as it deserves to be!

    Chris: exactly! I've loved each and every one of Neil Gaiman's recommendations so far.

    Carl: I do hope you get to it soon, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

    Quixotic: Now that I read it I fully understand why you do!

  7. From this review and your sidebar, I think your taste in books is like a mix of my taste and my husband's taste. And from your spelling of favourite, I'm guessing you might be English like him! He LOVES Gaiman and Pratchett and is reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell right now. I love Le Guin and Coupland and Yolen.

  8. Nymeth, I need to ask you something. Please email me at

  9. Hi dewey! I'm actually Portuguese, but I do read a lot of English fiction.

    Carl: done!

  10. I just learned about this book by reading blogs. It sounds wonderful and I hope I get to it soon. Great review.

  11. Thank you, framed. I hope you enjoy the book!


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