Rossdavidh's Reviews > Waking the Moon

Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand
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really liked it

I don't normally go back and write reviews of books I read years before, but upon seeing a reference to Elizabeth Hand, I realized that "Waking the Moon" is one of those books that hovers in my mind, for years afterwards. Which doesn't necessarily mean that I loved it, but it does mean it deserves a review.

The basic plot can be summarized as:
1) young lady (Sweeney Cassidy) goes to college
2) ...and discovers a new group of friends, one or two of whom (Angelica, Oliver) are especially enchanting to her
3) ...and then stumbles onto the fact that the Mother Goddess figure of old is sleeping, not mythical
4) ...but grows up without quite seeing it awaken, and wonders what that was about, and then
5) ...just as she seems to be grown up and leaving all that overwrought college-age magical thinking behind, it comes back with a vengeance.

Now, there are a few things to unpack here. One, this book probably relies a lot on the reader's own memories of college. I wonder what it would be like to read it if you had never been to college. Because, in fact, the main character's college experience seems a lot like an idealized version of what people think college will be, or should have been; a magical and mystical introduction to a larger world. Which, of course, is quite a bit different than what actual college is like, but you know, every once in a while it kinda sorta was like that, and Hand plays well on that archetype.

There was also, in the 19th century, a great deal of archaeological nonsense written about early, Mother Goddess centered cults and societies, much of which was later revealed to be as romanticized as everything else about the 19th Century's Romantic era. The more we learn about truly ancient societies, the more they look less like an idyllic land of peace and non-threatening free love, and the more they look like another era of humans, with their penchant for conflict and power-lust and occasional bouts of violence. Not that this would be the Mother Goddess cult's fault, since followers of Odin and Zeus were fully as capable of doing the same. But the main character recapitulates the same path that all of human archaeology went down (or in some cases is still going down), with great fascination at what is seen at a distance, which becomes less and less reassuring the closer it is seen.

There is also a nice plot thread here about Sweeney Cassidy trying to tie what she saw and heard (and did) in college, with the life she experiences after she leaves college. This, is a fact that hits home in a painful way to many, especially perhaps those who studied hard and dove deep into some field for which the job market has no great appetite. What was that all about, then, if it has nothing to do with what comes after? For Sweeney, at least, all of that does come back, and if it doesn't all quite look exactly like it did when she was in college, she is at least given the reassuring news that it wasn't all just sound and fury, signifying nothing. For more than one reader of a certain age, this may seem oddly reassuring.

The ending, as more than one reviewer has noted, is more than a little dissatisfying, but that may not be entirely a fault. The friend who suggested I read it (as part of our local book club) said she would have liked to hear the story also from the point of view of Angelica, and I have to say the idea did seem interesting. But perhaps it is better that the story leaves us, like anthropologists studying those ancient Mother Goddess cults, still with far more questions than answers. Any book which leaves questions in your mind that continue to surface, years after you read it, is a standout worth taking note of.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 14, 2019 – Shelved

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