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#49

Water Shows the Hidden Heart is an odd duck: it's written by Roma Ryan, lyricist for Enya, and meant to accompany the singer's album Amarantine. It builds upon the Loxian fantasy world whose language Enya & Ryan invented for the album (and which, they claim, is under their exclusive copyright - and they do lay down C&Ds, so don't go getting any ideas about writing anything in Loxian anytime soon). The prologue sort of establishes the world of the Loxians, a society of stargazers who cluster in two cities on an island and whose cultural symbolism centers on a duology between the river and the moon. The main part of the book, though, is a kind of dream-story about a man who goes on a symbolic journey in search of his lost love, who recently died. (The track on Amarantine by the same name is supposed to be a sort of image song of his travels.)

If you've heard "Flora's Secret" or "Anywhere Is," you know that Ryan at her best is a master of playful, poetic wordplay. Unfortunately, a) Ryan's been off her game for the last couple albums (meaning, starting with Amarantine), and b) she hasn't figured out here how to adapt her material to the format of a novel, even one that's supposed to read like a fever dream. The prose is circular and repetitive and raw in a self-published way:
They say these are but the first words in a book of words. They say these are but the first words in a book that holds many other writings. They say these writings are of the night, and that they are words of love, page upon page bound in black, a black that is the color of the night...

Ryan's good at images that allude more than tell, that are sustained over the five minutes of a song, but in expanding her ideas to greater length and a more baldly expository format, her revelations become trite, and tableaux that are supposed to be heartbreakingly beautiful (how stunning and rapturous and brave it is that the Loxians found their culture on love of knowledge and the printed word, for example) come across as frothy insipidities (even more so when they're presented as stunningly original ideas). I did like the initial idea here of presenting the stages of one man's grief as a series of destinations - a city of constant grey rain that is either peaceful or dolorous depending on one's perspective; a "city of indecisions," where every road leads to a different one from one moment to the next - but too many of the cities are samey, and the execution just isn't there. The novel comes across more as a self-indulgence; the song, translated, tells this story better.

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