Jay Rothermel recently suggested I read the Elizabeth Hand novella Near Zennor citing it as being nearly perfect. Knowing Jay has excellent taste and the fact that I already had a book on my shelf containing it (The Years Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2012), I gave it a read. You can read Jay’s excellent examination of Near Zennor over at his site: http://jayrothermel.blogspot.com/2021/03/near-zennor-by-elizabeth-hand-2011.html . My own review follows below.
Near Zennor by Elizabeth Hand (2011) – While sorting through old belongings to take to Goodwill, a man named Jeffrey discovers a batch of returned letters his recently deceased wife (Anthea) had written inside an old tin fudge container. Reading them reveals they had been written by her at age thirteen (postmarked 1971) to a young adult author named Robert Bennington. In her letters she raves about how much she loves his fantasy book series (similar to Harry Potter books but darker). One of the letters seems to indicate Anthea and a couple of her friends had actually traveled to meet the author in person at some point. This is all surprising to Jeffrey as he and his wife shared everything during their marriage, and although he knew how much she loved the book series, she never mentioned writing to or having had met the man. This new discovery spurs him to research further, where he learns of a scandal involving Bennington being arrested as a pedophile and that one of Anthea’s friends, who also met the author, mysteriously vanished years ago. Driven by a need to learn more about this secret part of his wife’s past sends the widower on a trip from his home in America to England so he can further investigate the mystery. This is an excellent novella, filled with wonderful descriptions of the British landscapes as Jeffrey’s desperate search for answers takes him to various locations including the moors of Zennor. The aching loss Jeffrey feels is palpable, and the people he meets and interacts with along the way are well-realized. This tale unfolds as an intriguing mystery and falls solidly in the weird tale genre as there are supernatural elements at play. It’s somber, beautiful, reflective and keeps the pages turning with each answer Jeffery uncovers. I highly recommend this one!
Review by Matt Cowan