Primavera by Francesca Lia Block
Francesca Lia Block’s novel Primavera is the sequel to an earlier novel Ecstasia, which should probably be read before continuing with this one. I hadn’t read Ecstasia, and though this didn’t prevent me from grasping what was going on here, I couldn’t help but feel that some of the action that takes place would have been better understood and more poignant had I previously read Ecstasia.
From what I gathered here, Ecstasia concerned a four-person band (Calliope, Dionisio, Paul, and Rafe) who lived in the beautiful city of Elysia which revered the youthful and cast out the old — much like Hollywood. Their band Ecstasia was a huge success, but eventually they tired of the city and escaped to the desert, where their music created a paradise for them to dwell in. Calliope and Dionisio married and had a daughter, the focus of this sequel, called Primavera.
Despite living in paradise, Primavera is discontented. She is fascinated with the thought of Elysia, tired of the confines of the garden and tragically in love with Paul, who cannot love her in return given that he’s gay and ‘married’ to Primavera’s uncle Rafe. Thus when a handsome man comes to the garden with a horse-headed motorcycle, Primavera discreetly makes her escape. It is her adventures to and within Elysia that make up the bulk of the book; she meets a range of interesting characters, vivid landscapes and surreal situations.
I can’t go any further without mentioning the language Block instigates in her novels, as anyone who is unfamiliar with it can be caught quite off-guard. The best way to describe any of her books is to say they are prose-poetry novels, and as such can be quite difficult to grasp (a good comparison would be to Patricia McKillip‘s novels) as the language is dense and metaphorical, and sometimes obscures narrative and meaning. Some may be frustrated at this, and at times I myself wondered if the fanciful style was simply used to cover-up a weak storyline, but though it’s true that certain sentences can feel a bit too “flowery,” they are an essential part of Block’s novels and a necessary component to the atmosphere of the story. Some of her sentences and ideas are utter gems. My main problem lay with Primavera’s “songs,” sporadically placed throughout the novel; a better description of them would have been “poems” considering they cannot be set to music, and often interrupt the flow of the novel rather than provide insights into it.
But for all of this, the story itself is fascinating, which can best be described as a coming-of-age story for a young teenage girl. Primavera feels the restless spirit of most young people, one so strong that it induces her to leave paradise, brave several terrifying dangers and return once more, much like the story of the Prodigal Son (or in this case daughter). Some of the situations she finds herself in are truly harrowing, and therefore I recommend not tackling this novel unless you’re prepared to handle the issues Block raises, which include drug-use, rape, homosexuality, abandonment, cruelty and possibly even bestiality. Of course, Block’s gift is her ability to hide the controversy of this ideas behind her iridescent language (reminding me of the similar technique used in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange) and so if you are super-sensitive to these issues, rest assured Block does not explore them in minute detail, leaving such things up to the reader to ponder. It’s up to you as to how deep you read into them.
The best feature of Primavera is the use of Greek mythology and other fantasy elements to create a world totally unlike our own, and yet resonating in our minds; a world made up of carnival-cities, humid desert gardens and glass towers in the desert and filled with hybrid creatures: mermaids, giants, fauns, centaurs and bird-women. Block’s world is one that we could never really go to save in our imaginations, and yet it feels real.
So Primavera comes recommended, especially if preceded with Ecstasia, as do Block’s other novels. If you enjoy the fairytale ambiance of Primavera, then Block’s anthology of re-imagined fairytales The Rose and the Beast should be your next stop.