Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Writing with a Wide Scope, 28 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Songs from the Other Side of the Wall (Kindle Edition)
"Who can see their life from every angle?" This is a question posed early in Dan Holloway's Songs From the Other Side of the Wall, and, like the tether of a balloon, it snakes through the hands of his protagonist, Sandrine as she puzzles over its shape and where it may lead her. There is no question that, at some point, it will slip her grasp, but it is Sandrine's journey from ignorance to understanding (and back again) that gives us the outline of this complex tale of identity, perception and art.

Sandrine is 18 and motherless, raised by her father on his vineyard in Hungary, absorbing the mutability of grapes and life as she contemplates university abroad and the memory of a brief exchange that, perhaps somewhat improbably, affected her so deeply the very fabric of her life is unraveled by it.

Growing up in post-Berlin Wall Hungary, Sandrine is surrounded by the ghosts of horrors past and politically and culturally aware youth, including musicians of which Sandrine is a sometime member, and one in particular named Michael, a European rock star with his own website (through which he and Sandrine meet). Her own blog, Songs From the Other Side of the Wall is something of an outlet to the world that she never quite participates in, choosing, instead to `wander around' or, in Michael's words: "Sometimes you don't want to be in the middle of things. Sometimes, when something's really important, it's best to watch it from the edges, from the spaces. Or even to watch other people than the thing itself."

The `thing itself' in this case, takes the shape of a woman named Claire, whom Sandrine has never actually met (yet has obsessively fallen for) and whose accidental death (caught on camera and posted on Youtube) that Sandrine witnesses forever alters how she perceives her life and the those around her. Seeming coincidences keep taking shape in Sandrine's life as she later meets Michael's father, whose own story - and perhaps knowledge of Claire - keeps her in literal suspense.

Comparisons to Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart may come automatically to mind in the description of the mysterious Claire - a gifted, intelligent woman whom we only meet through her letters to Sandrine and through pages of her journal - she lived and worked in Oxford with Sandrine's long-missing mother and it was on a trip to Hungary with her that she first spies Sandrine through the younger girl's bedroom window. Though possibly infatuated with Sandrine's mother, Claire's letters and journals indicate an immediate fascination for Sandrine that is also immediately and silently reciprocated. Do we see what we think we see? Sandrine will never know Claire and all the loose threads that surround their attraction give way to an almost obsessive desire for closure that Sandrine may never truly find.

Like Sputnik Sweetheart, Holloway's prose gives shape to his characters and delivers us to a time and place, from the end of the Cold War in east Europe to the dead-end enclosures of modern Oxford, the world inside and out, the interior mechanisms and escapements that tick and tock, leading to the next hour or the next half-empty station. Songs, in a sense, reads like the inner life of 21st century bloggers and artists piecing together whatever has been left behind by the last generation.

Like K in Sputnik, Sandrine is searching for something frustratingly vague and all the clues left behind only bring her to a kind of self-knowledge, though not the kind she was seeking. Interconnectedness is another theme of Songs, so, unlike Sputnik, we are given a narrative resolve to Sandrine's journey, one that takes up the loose ends of these relationships - parent and child, lover and other and the wanting nature of love - and sets them adrift, free.
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