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Alicia's Gift Paperback – 12 Jul 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks (12 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340839333
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340839331
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 637,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"Enthralling...Jessica writes with an unpredictable and original voice and a dazzling perceptiveness" JOANNA LUMLEY on SONGS OF TRIUMPHANT LOVE.

Jessica is a versatile wordsmith with a musical bias. Her output includes novels, biographies, plays, words&music projects, poetry for musical setting, music journalism and more. Her writing regularly appears in The Independent, BBC Music Magazine and Opera News, among other publications, and her music blog "JDCMB",, has attracted more than 1.5m readers.

Jessica and her musician colleagues are performing concert versions of her novels HUNGARIAN DANCES and ALICIA'S GIFT through 2013 and her plays respectively about Wagner and Messiaen are due for more performances. Please see EVENTS list below, or visit for full listings.

Her novels focus on the cross-currents between family generations, with music a recurring theme. All are now additionally available in e-book format.

Jessica's biographies of the composers Gabriel Fauré and Erich Wolfgang Korngold for Phaidon's 20th Century Composers series have met with wide acclaim.

Watch an extract from BBC TV's SACRED MUSIC series in which Jessica talks about Fauré's Requiem:

Product Description


'The devil in this book is in the detail, the accumulation of every detail that disables middle class life when the unexpected lands, in this case a musically gifted child. You turn the pages with a tremble, in case you crush the fragile family. Unbearably real.' (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown)

'Jessica Duchen's debut novel is captivating, imaginative and fascinating. As a musician and a mother, I recognized many of the scenarios and found the questions that were posed very poignant, both from a musical and personal perspective. The pace builds powerfully to a dramatic and ultimately very moving conclusion. Completely gripping!' (Tasmin Little on RITES OF SPRING)

'Adam and Sasha appear to have the perfect life - good jobs, a nice home, money and three perfect children. But as their marriage begins to unravel, their ballet-crazy daughter starts staving herself - and her parents are too preoccupied to notice. A haunting, heartbreaking novel.' (Closer on RITES OF SPRING)

'Duchen skilfully balances the conventions of the genre with the authority of a writer who really knows her subject. ALICIA's GIFT is a wonderful read. But make sure you keep the Kleenex handy when you tackle it.' (Music Teacher on Alicia's Gift)

'This is a very well written study of the problem of being and having a child prodigy.... it's a gripping read and it's very easy to get caught up in the excitement of wanting Alicia to succeed... I enjoyed this book a lot' (Muso on Alicia's Gift)

'A sensitive and thought-provoking novel that will resonate all the more for those with musical leanings.' (Femke Colborne, MUSO on RITES OF SPRING)

'Jessica Duchen has crafted a riveting drama set within the arts world . . . The neatly-composed plot charges to a climax as steadily as Ravel's Boléro, with Duchen capturing well the inner world of the pubescent girl and the London classical music scene. For fans of Joanna Trollope and Russian composers alike.' (Classic FM Magazine on RITES OF SPRING)

'If your child seems headed for a glorious career in the arts, how hard

should you push her or him? Having explored a similar topic in last

year's enjoyable Rites of Spring, pianist and music journalist Duchen

considers the impact a prodigy can have on an average middle-class

family in her second novel. The Buxton-based Bradleys boast at their

core the pitch-per

(Classic FM Magazine)

'An imaginative novel about a music writer, her violinist husband their daughter, with themes of miscommunication, perfectionism and adolescence.' (Eve on RITES OF SPRING)

'As in Rites of Spring, Duchen demonstrates a gift for vividly sketching, with a few deft lines, the environment in which the characters move as well as their internal emotional landscape, and again her compassion for her characters in persuasive.' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Beautiful' (Buxton Advertiser)

'Wonderful! Thank you for hours of absorption - I had to know what happened to the characters.' (Steven Isserlis on Rites of Spring)

Book Description

The thoughtful and compelling issues-based second novel from an author who has already gained a loyal fanbase

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By AJB Orr-Ewing on 23 April 2007
Format: Hardcover
Alicia's Gift is one of those rare novels that combines excellent narrative skill with deft characterisation whilst simultaneously increasing one's knowledge about an arcane but approachable subject.

Alicia, a child prodigy of the piano, is our heroine and her story of the impact she has on those around her, from family to fellow professionals and friends, is faultlessly charted by Jessica Duchen. Here we are not analysing genius; we observe it and with it the extaordinarily high level of hard work and personal sacrifice that unique talent insists on bringing in its wake.

The structure of the story is impeccably paced. With each page the characters develop and their own challenges and their personalities emerge. In the seas of genius there are always demons lurking underneath the surface ready to sink the fragile vessel that plots its lonely voyage. Duchen's skill lies in resisting the temptation to over characterise her subsidiary characters. She creates a thoroughly credible cast, sparingly but tellingly observed, who combine to propel the reader ever more enthusiastically towards the denouement. This is one of Duchen's great skills as a novellist. Alicia does little except study and play the piano with relentless persistence; hardly one would think, an interesting character in herself; worthy but potentially dull. After all we cannot hear her play so the supporting cast has to supply her character through their own reactions and relationships with her. This is achieved 'con brio'.

Jessica Duchen's technical grasp of plot, pace and personality combined with her formidable knowledge of music make this a simply great read. Her unobtrusive manipulation of the relationships within the novel provide a delightful reminder of Iris Murdoch.

Alicia's Gift is a thoroughly good, intelligent, read!

Give yourself pleasure: buy it!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By T. Neubach on 25 April 2007
Format: Hardcover
I found this book riveting. A taut plot, convincing characters and some astonishing insights into the mind of the young girl who becomes the 'Peak District prodigy', as well as a sensitive, observant portrait of a family undergoing the gradual disintegration that the imbalance of a gifted child can so easily bring. Child prodigies are fascinating and I'm only surprised that there haven't been more novels about them.

The writing is very evocative, especially the passages relating to synaesthesia, and the way Duchen builds the picture of Kate, Alicia's obsessive mother, is superb, showing us the 'stress fractures' before Alicia is even born. I felt that even if Kate's decisions made me want to scream, I could still understand all too well where she was coming from. Alicia's brother Adrian is a wonderful character, alienated, stubborn, supportive and misguided in equal measures. The atmosphere of the Peak District is well evoked and its relative isolation from the hub of musical life provides an interesting parallel with Alicia's own position in relation to her peers.

But rather than being a neurotic nutcase as she so easily could have been, Alicia is drawn as a very "normal" girl who happens to have a God-given gift. She's the most sensible, kind, natural and sympathetic person in the cast, but what most of the people around her respond to is, unfortunately, not her real self but her ability to play the piano.

It would have been the same, one feels, were she a tennis player or a maths prodigy or an Olympic athlete - this is an archetypal drama of the gifted child and, behind that, the universal, increasing rift between mother and daughter as the girl transforms into a woman.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Leonora351 on 4 Dec. 2007
Format: Paperback
Alicia's Gift succeeds on many levels. At heart it is a coming-of-age story which charts the central character's development into a musician and woman. Personal development is also a theme for other characters as the book also examines the nature of family relationships. All of the characters are rounded and convincing including those that initially seem unsympathetic. The musical details add a wealth of colour to the story and draw on the author's own musical background and expertise, while the setting is so well realised that the reader is drawn into Alicia's world. I particularly liked the way the author conveyed Alicia's viewpoint at different stages in her life and especially her sense of wonder at the world around her. All in all, this is a very satisfying read which provides a glimpse into the world inhabited by the modern classical musician.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Queen on 20 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback
I was delighted to find this book as I thoroughly enjoyed Jessica Duchen's first book, Rite of Spring. I couldn't put Alicia's Gift down, I was totally absorbed. Anyone who has had personal experience with any of the issues raised in this book will tell you that Duchen doesn't miss a beat. Every emotion is minutely portrayed, and I found myself cringing with acute understanding everytime Alicia's mother, Kate, uttered the words 'Go and do your practising'. A cautionary tale indeed ... any parents out there living their failed dreams through their children, beware! You don't need in-depth musical knowledge to appreciate this book. If you strip away the feeling of elitism associated with the instrumental music world, you're left with a modern day tale of a badly dysfunctional family being torn apart by a control freak of a mother.

Can't imagine what Jessica Duchen has in store for her next novel but it's certainly something to look forward to. If anything, Alicia's gift has the edge on her first one.
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