Thursday, July 16, 2020

More Miracle than Bird by Alice Miller, fiction about Georgie Hyde-Lees, wife of poet W. B. Yeats

The lens through which a story is told makes all the difference. Miller’s revelatory debut novel, written in crisp, elegant prose, focuses on Georgie Hyde-Lees, wife of Anglo-Irish poet W. B. Yeats.  Though Georgie isn’t his greatest love (Maud Gonne has that distinction), she turns out to be his ideal partner, which he takes a long time realizing.

The story initially moves between 1916, as Georgie nurses wounded WWI officers in a dreary London hospital, and 1914, when she approaches the eccentric, much older Yeats at a soirée and requests an invitation to a clandestine occult society. Missing her late father, Georgie longs for proof of the soul’s immortality, and her quest draws readers into the perennially intriguing theme of spiritualism and the reasons why people pursue it.

Though slowly paced, the novel offers ample conflict as Georgie faces difficult choices. The bleak atmosphere aptly suits the wartime backdrop, and Miller deftly presents a portrait of Georgie, a young woman calibrating her place in the world, and her shifting relationship with the man she adores.

More Miracle Than Bird was published by Tin House in June.  I reviewed it for the 5/15/20 issue of Booklist (reprinted with permission).  The intriguing title comes from a line in Yeats' poem "Byzantium."

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