Miller’s solid debut draws on the life of literary translator Georgiana Hyde-Lees, who married W.B. Yeats. The story opens in war-weary 1916 London, at a hospital filled with recuperating soldiers. Georgie has taken a nursing job, where she fends off suitors by telling them about her sweetheart—the much older Willy Yeats. Georgie also attends meetings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret society devoted to the occult that Willy has joined, and believes this shared interest means they are meant for each other, though Willie isn’t ready to settle down. Georgie searches for clues to her future happiness at gatherings of the Order and in séances with a young medium named Nora Radcliffe, though she senses something sinister (“for a terrifying minute the map of her brain seemed wiped pale”). After Georgie is fired for lying to get time off, she determines to marry Willy despite the age difference and his reputation as a ladies’ man. Though readers know from the beginning Georgie will marry Willy, Miller maintains tension by laying out plenty of plausible alternatives. Historical fiction devotees will appreciate this sensitive character study wrapped in an atmospheric, moody rendering of WWI London. Agent: Geri Thoma, Writers House. (June)
Alice Miller brings her fine poet’s eye to painting an unforgettable portrait of Georgie Hyde-Lees, future wife of W. B. Yeats, as she struggles against a background mélange of artists, writers, and occultists to discover her own mind. Filtered through Miller’s keen poet’s ear, we hear the cadences of her characters’ interior voices in the twilight between life and death, and the beat of their hearts in their journeys towards love.An engrossing and impressive debut,More Miracle than Birdis a welcome addition to the canon of historical fiction that shines light on women whose legacies have been shadowed by their famed partners.
An atmospheric novel conjures up Georgie Hyde-Lees, the woman whose automatic writing is credited with enabling poet W.B. Yeats’ late work, a clever, rational, sympathetic figure in her own right.
Indulged by her alcoholic father and disapproved of by her sterner mother, Georgie emerges, as Miller’s debut opens, as an independent-minded, questioning young woman living in London in a pre-feminist era. It’s 1916, and, keen to help with the war effort, Georgie has taken on a menial hospital job, tending to wounded officers, that comes with the useful benefit of lodgings that liberate her from her mother’s home while also allowing her to pursue her interest in spiritualism and see friends at will. These friends include the poets Ezra Pound, who will marry Georgie’s best friend, and W.B. Yeats, an Irishman twice her age who shares her interest in mediums and séances and will introduce her to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. An unspoken moment of intensity between Yeats and Georgie leads to an assumption that they will marry, yet Yeats seems distant and is rumored to still be seeking a marriage with the woman he has pursued for decades, Maude Gonne. Miller draws an empathetic—if loosely paced—portrait of Georgie, a young woman seeking certitude and intellectual satisfaction in a confusing landscape of war, mysticism, supposed intellectuals, and affairs of the heart. The latter are complicated by the attentions of one of the wounded officers and the comments of a medium who suggests Yeats has three possible women to choose from. Meeting that third woman—Iseult Gonne, Maude’s daughter—at one of Yeats’ parties, Georgie gains clarity on several matters, including her own naiveté, and flees London. But neither the spirits nor the menfolk have quite finished with her.
Subtle and low-key, Miller’s debut coolly appraises the poet while fully inhabiting the woman in his shadow.
"Miller probingly explores the sacrifices that accompany loving a great artist, as well as ‘Willy’ and Georgie’s fascination with the occult."
"A terrific tale. . . . Written with superb emotional rightness."
"A shimmering novel about our yearnings for forever, and the greatest mystery of life, which is, of course, love. It must be said: More Miracle than Bird is a bit of a miracle in itself."
"Engrossing and impressive."
"Alice Miller proves herself to be a superb medium. . . . A vivid portrait of mercurial artists in a tumultuous time."
"The lens through which a story is told makes all the difference. . . . 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."
"Sweeping . . . A pristine, thoughtful re-imagining of the personal lives of true literary greats."
"More Miracle than Bird will ring in my mind’s ear for a long time, and I will return to its pages. A wonderful book!"
"Miller has written a luminous novel about the women involved with the early 20th century’s most notable men poets, offering a fresh portrayal of the women’s brilliant complexity. Ambition, artifice, and adventure draw them through a contingent world unsettled by spirits, mediums, the war dead, and soon-to-be dead. But Miller is up to more than telling a story of these fascinating lives: More Miracle Than Bird makes a sly and disturbing inquiry into how art truly gets made and to whom it belongs."
"Riveting. . . . Brilliantly animates a pivotal period of literary history."