The Island of Excess Love - Francesca Lia Block

The very young alchemist stared at the people flying off the buildings on the TV screen. For one heart-banging beat he wondered if they had discovered the magic spell to make them fly.
    It was not that.
    The plane had crashed through the buildings.
    His mother came in, turned off the TV, and told him to go to his room and get ready for school.
    Instead he went to his sister's room; she was seated on the floor, her three black hound dogs sitting upright behind her, her black, red, and yellow-striped snake asleep in its cage.

Block's novel opens with this revelatory glimpse into the past, before the Earth Shaker occurred, the tsunami destroyed most of the coast(s), and the giants and witches began to hunt. Pen and her friends, Hex, Venice, Ash, and Ez, have managed to survive and have set up a home in Pen's old three story pink house near the ocean. They receive mysterious gifts of food and take time to meditate and garden in order to thrive, until one day a haunted ship arrives on the shore and the giant, Bull, arrives to settle the score (in Love in the Time of Global Warming, Pen took Bull's eye) and the group is forced to board the ghost ship and head off into the unknown. When they arrive on a mysterious island (the island of the novel's title), their relationships are all put to the test in the face of a King and kingdom that seems too perfect to be true.
There's a portrait of me on the wall. I hadn't noticed it when I walked in. It's definitely me, but with long hair like I had Then, more sensual lips, a stronger jaw, and two eyes. Three if you count the huge eye on a small platter in my portrait's hand. Bull the Cyclops's eye. The quality of the paint is rich and glossy, infused with light.... Goose bumps rise up on my arms, in contrast to the smooth skin of the girl in the portrait. Who is this king and what does he want from us? From me?
Much of the novel follows a similar journey to Virgil's The Aeneid, which is frequently alluded to and quoted by Hex and Pen. I'm not entirely sure about the connection, which isn't every explained (in my opinion) in a fully satisfactory way. The first novel is based on Homer's The Odyssey, and my concerns about the connection are similar. I have no problem with the allusions and similar trajectory, but I wish there was more explanation of the connection to these older stories.

That being said, I do love Block's magically realistic style and her characters. She always manages to write such odd and yet captivating scenes and images. Part of what I enjoy is the mythology that she references in this particular series, even if I'm not very clear on the connection. Dystopia with an environmental and fantasy twist is something I don't think I've come across before these books. There are queer and trans* issues at play throughout the novel, and maybe that causes me to find that much more love for it, but I don't think that's the whole case.

This book is full of giants, kings and queens, fairies, rulers of the underworld, and ghosts intent on driving various characters to madness. There is science, climate change, dystopian themes, end-of-the-world craziness, and supernatural/magical elements. Excess Love is a beautifully written novel with a lot to love, and the human relationships are pitch-perfect.



Popular posts from this blog

Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II - Alan Gratz

Althea & Oliver - Cristina Moracho

A List of Cages - Robin Roe