This book was a complete joy. Wagner seems to be more defined by myth these days - not surprising really, given the complexity of the man and his far reaching impact on culture in general. I don't think it's possible to offer a 'concise' Wagner biography ( not that this is a biography of Wagner, per se) : his legacy and influence are just too unwieldy and overwhelming. That said, Jonathan Carr has done a tremendous myth-busting and insightful job here. There is an almost tangible sense of Wagner's contradictory personality and the effect he had on others. I think one thing that works brilliantly is Carr's writing style. It has a no-nonsense feel to it - often informed by a wry, ironic detachment; it is also clear that he isn't simply trying to show off or appear witty for the sake of it. The over-arching mood works very effectively in maintaining a sense of perspective. We're not left with just another dry academic tome; nor do we have the excesses of fawning hagiography. Instead it is perfectly nuanced with just the right balance between a genuine passion for the subject and a healthy awareness of the shortcomings - of both Wagner and the family, past and present. It is often said of some books 'you don't need to be a fan to enjoy it', and that is absolutely true of The Wagner Clan. The story of a great talent, his peculiarities, his warring family, and how the man still casts an enormous shadow of music and culture today is a truly fascinating one, and Carr recounts this in what is, effectively, a real page turner: you want to know how each new event is going to pan out.
Not only is this a very enjoyable read, it is also a book that will, I'm sure, whet the appetite of those unfamiliar with Wagner's music to investigate further. I'm pretty sure it will also rekindle the interest of those who have some experience of Wagner without ever having been fully engaged. As for the true Wagnerite, well, they are in for a real treat. Very highly recommended.