Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Review of An Unfinished Score, by Elise Blackwell

An Unfinished Score
By Elise Blackwell
Unbridled Books
ISBN-10: 1936071665
ISBN-13: 978-1936071661
Pub date: April 2010

An Unfinished Score begins with our viola-player protagonist, Suzanne, learning about her lover’s tragic death from a radio announcement as she’s having dinner with her composer husband, Ben. Stunned, she must hide her feelings and act as if nothing is wrong. During the coming weeks, as she goes on with her daily routine, we get past snapshots of her illicit relationship with her lover, the well-known conductor Alex Elling. Suzanne keeps the secret to herself, hiding the truth even from her best friend Petra. Then one day she receives a strange call from Alex’s widow, a call that brings an unexpected twist into Suzanne’s quietly desperate life: the widow claims that Alex has left an unfinished concert for Suzanne… Is this true? Who is to finish the score? Who gets to play the concert? For what reason?

Thus begins the dark relationship between Suzanne and her dead lover’s widow, a relationship that sends Suzanne into inner turmoil and ultimately into public humiliation.

There are many positive things to say about this novel. It is obviously well researched. The world of musicians, composers, orchestras and string quartets come alive. In this respect, the author has done her homework, and classical music fans will enjoy all the references to music and facts about the ins and outs of the musical world. As a norm, it isn’t easy for a non-musician author to write convincingly about musician characters, yet the author has accomplished this with flying colors. The sentences flow beautifully and at times the prose has some great moments. There is a genuine, realistic aspect to the characters and their insipid and unpleasant lives. Also worth noting is Suzanne’s submersion into her fantasy world, the tortuous state of her mind not only because she’s lost Alex, but because she’s now left with nothing but her dull, ordinary existence.

That said, the novel does have its share of flaws. First, there are so many mentions and allusions to music and composers that the story flow drags and gets bogged down with details. Second, in spite of Suzanne’s predicament, she’s not sympathetic enough for the reader to care; in fact, none of the characters in the book are particularly likable. The novel is lacking in this important aspect, thus affecting the reader’s ability to be concerned with the outcome. Third, Alex’s widow comes out as the stereotypical ‘evil ex-wife’ and her conversations with Suzanne often sound stilted.

In spite of this, An Unfinished Score will be of special interest to musicians—especially viola and violin players—and lovers of classical music.


Review of The Violin Lover, by Susan Glickman

violin2The Violin Lover is a beautifully written novel, one that fans of violin music, as well as readers of serious literary fiction, will particularly appreciate.

The story takes place in England during the start of the Second World War, just before the invasion of Hitler into Germany. Young widow Clara Weiss lives with her three young children in a Jewish sector of London. Her oldest son, Jacob, is eleven years old and a gifted pianist. Clara lives for her children and is extremely protective towards them, her nurturing qualities sometimes falling into compulsive obsession.

At a Christmas concert one night, Clara is introduced to Ned Abraham, not only a medical doctor but also an accomplished violinist. At once, Clara is taken with the tall, mysterious man with the dark hair and black, deep-set eyes. Jacob’s music teacher insists he should play a piece with Jacob in the future, and this is how Ned takes young Jacob under his wing. Soon, the attraction between Clara and Ned intensifies, and they become secret lovers. In time, and as their relationship progresses, Clara begins to feel jealous of Jacob and Ned’s bond and resents their friendship. Their liason, which is mostly characterized by Clara’s dependence and Ned’s indifference, ends up having tragic consequences for all involved.

The Violin Lover is a compelling, unusual read. Though it moved a bit slow in the beginning, it picked up pace after the first few chapters and by the middle I had become quite engrossed. Glickman is a fine writer and this shows in her smooth, sometimes symbolic prose. There are small segments in the story which really are allegories of Clara’s obsessive dependence and controlling behavior, like the part where she insists that ducks in the river must be fed or they’ll die; she’s unable to realize that ducks may very well survive on their own. This also symbolizes her over protectiveness toward her children, especially with Jacob, who is growing into a young man and needs more independence, something she is unable to offer.

The relationship between Clara and Ned is both dark and fascinating. Glickman’s has an obvious gift for characterization, as well as for showing the characters’ emotions rather than spelling them out. The story is mostly narrative with not as much dialogue as I expected. There are many sections where the story is quickly narrated instead of being shown with actual dialogue and characters’ actions, and this made the pace feel a bit rushed at times. It is a novel that will make readers ponder: who is the villain and who is the victim? Clara or Ned? I think readers will love and hate both of them at some point or another.

If you love classical music or play the piano or the violin, you will enjoy the music descriptions, told with the sensibility of someone who shares this same passion.

This novel is available on Amazon.

Currently Reading…

I recently did a search on violin-related short stories and this is what I found:

“M’sieu Fortier’s Violin” by Alice Dunbar
The story of a poor old violinist and his beloved violin in 19th Century New Orleans.

“The Russian Violinist” by Ellen Visson. Previously published in Literary Review.

“The Weird Violin” by Anonymous
A famous violinist stumbles upon a very spooky violin.

“Amongst the carefully-arranged violins was a curious old instrument the like of which the virtuoso had never seen before, and at this he now stared with all his eyes. It was an ugly, squat violin, of heavy pattern, and ancient appearance. The maker, whoever he had been, had displayed considerable eccentricity throughout its manufacture, but more especially in the scroll, which, owing to some freak, he had carved into the semblancc of a hideous, grinning face. There was something horribly repulsive about this strange work of art, and yet it also possessed a subtle fascination. The violinist, keeping his eyes upon the face, which secmed to follow his movements with fiendish persistency, slowly edged to the door, and entered the shop.”

Happy reading!


The Soloist, by Steve Lopez

The Soloist
51eirbvsjll_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_By Steve Lopez
Berkley Publishing Group
ISBN: 978-0-425-22600-1
Copyright 2008
Paperback, 289 pages, $15.00

The Soloist is the true story of gifted musician Nathaniel Ayers told by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez. If you’re interested in classical music, especially the violin or cello, and love to read about the lives of musicians, then this touching, heart-warming book about the redeeming power of music is for you.

But the special thing about this story is that Nathaniel is not only homeless, but also mentally unstable. Lopez first encounters the musician in the infamous Skid Row, “a dumping ground for inmates released from a nearby county jail, and (a) place where sirens never stop screaming,” playing beautiful music on a tattered violin with only two strings. Thus begins their unusual bond and friendship as Lopez begins writing his newspaper columns about Nathaniel, garnering much attention from the public. Soon gifts begin to come in—violins, a cello, and even a piano.

The story offers two parallel journeys. On the one hand, we learn how Nathaniel began his life as a gifted musician, his admission to Juilliard, one of the toughest, most competitive music schools in the world, his breakdown and life on the streets. On the other hand, this is a journey of self discovery for our journalist narrator. By researching Nathaniel’s life and trying to help him, he learns about himself and human nature. This is a story of compassion, one that reminds us that there’s still goodness in this world. I mentioned that this book is about the redeeming power of music, but it’s also about the power of goodness and how it can change another person’s life.

Lopez’s style is engaging and witty, often combining keen observations about life with soft humor. His appreciation of music and this special musician comes through from his prose. He treats the sensitive subject of Schizophrenia with caution and respect.

The Soloist should definitely be in the shelf of every musician or anyone interested in music and/or mental illness.

*This review first appeared in Armchair Interviews.