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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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I first read Barbara Trapido a long time ago, with the wonderfulBrother of the More Famous Jack. Her earlier novels have all now been repackaged, and I'm sure will tempt lots of readers. This new book, "Sex and Stravinsky", though, feels somewhat less obviously enjoyable than that first read. Josh is married to Caroline, he interested in ballet and mime, she more of an active, cake-baking, floor-sanding type. Their daughter Zoe finds her mother fairly unbearable, yet is nonetheless reluctant to go on her schedule French exchange. Josh is off to his former homeland, South Africa, for a conference, where he meets up with an old flame, Hattie. Hattie's daughter also finds her mother unbearable.

The way the story is constructed feels experimental, narrated in the present tense, and switching between all the main characters in turn. This means that you never quite get to settle with one main character in the way you would in a more conventional book. The book is a page-turner, and the reader definitely guns for the final page: Trapido ratchets up the drama by giving her first heroine an absolutely appalling mother, whose bad deeds are almost of Snow White stepmother proportions. You definitely wish for Caroline, the daughter, to have her revenge, and spend a lot of the book agonising over whether it will ever happen. There is also a lot of sadness, and many thoughtful observations of life in pre-Apartheid South Africa. Then it features two teenagers, both of whom detest their own mothers; mothers and children turn out to be the main theme of the book.

Yet despite all of this excellent raw material, I did come away feeling slightly flat. I might even have given the book 3 and a half, if it were possible. The descriptions are vivid and alive, and the themes deeply intriguing, but the neat tying-up of the plot at the end really annoyed me because I felt the possibilities of the book hadn't been met. I wondered what conclusions Trapido was drawing about the nature of mother-daughter relationships, when I got to the end - I felt her view was rather pessimistic.

All in all, though, this is a much better beach read than a lot of the trashier books you'll find in the shops. And I can imagine book groups really enjoying a discussion of the mothering on display in the book. (Some really, really bad examples to cheer most of us right up about our own efforts...)
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on 14 June 2010
I have loved all Barabara Trapido's novels and this is no exception. The words flow beautifully so it is an effortless read but such a satisfying one! She manages to capture family life and all its vagaries perfectly, all the characters are real (did she know my mother?)and interesting. I couldn't put it down but did not want it to finish; when it was finished though I realised how much she had accomplished. It is more than a story of families, international themes are there, especially with the South African links, social comment is there but it is all intertwined with the magical words showing the pattern of life and lives. A tremendous read!
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on 22 July 2011
Always love Ms Trapido's books...the first one I read was well over 20 years ago and at the time was so frank and , to me, so daring, but believable, moving and affecting because of it .. with her normal dash of humour and clever use of serendipidty. I couldn't wait to buy this book and get started. Sadly, it was just not up to her usual gripping unputdownable standards. The story line could have been so much more meaningful. She kept tantalising the reader with issues surrounding Apartheid, Class differences, Bad communication et cetera..but never really followed through on these themes... The setting of the couple's first home together and subsequent chldren there .. was just NOT credible.....there were far too many characters which kept being introduced along the way, the seemingly important Mother and Sister, just dropped away half way through the book, it seemed tired, overlaid with events, complicated histories of NEW characters, and a very - well ALMOST - Mills & Boon ending ... Sorry Barbara...PLEASE get back to your more incisive and 'strike a chord' books...I'm still a fan!
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on 20 August 2011
This wasn't Ms Trapido's best novel because a lot of the characters were caricatures, especially leggy perfect intellectual Caroline, mousy Hattie and Caroline's ghastly mother from hell. The Stravinsky theme was alluded to a fair bit, but not really developed, and there was no sex, only the vaguest inference thereof. Several of the characters were so unpalatable that I wanted to punch their fictional lights out. But it was an amusing romp with a few unexpected twists (although the final denouement was entirely predictable). I also found it inplausible that the head of a comprehensive school could just jack it in for love on the other side of the world, especially a meticulous planner like Caroline. I also couldn't understand the 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' analogies, despite being very familiar with the play and having seen an RSC production of it in the same week that I read the book. Odd.
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on 1 November 2011
I love Barbara Trapido's books, so was really excited about getting this one. It's set in England and South Africa, so combines elements of 'Frankie and Stankie' with the 'Juggling' series. Very readable, and easy to engage with the majority of the characters' narratives (except for the vile mother-in-law, a creature of Austen-like awfulness). The ending was very contrived -as her endings often her- achieving a satisfying and balanced end, although I didn't think one of the main characters deserved his particularly happy ending.
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on 26 August 2010
I read this book on holiday and it made the perfect read. It's pacey, which I really love and doesn't hang around in one place for too long (how DOES anyone read Stephanie Meyer? Beats me!). The plot is subtle and beautifully woven. For fans of contemporary fiction with depth, it's a book to get lost in, and a 'must'. And, dare I say it, the cover drew me instantly (clever marketing). I am now a Trapido fan (I hadn't read her before) - so watch out Amazon - a big order is on its way.............
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on 24 June 2011
Sex & Stravinsky is based on a complex plot, with interweaving storylines of six characters, and told in 1995 with numerous flashbacks. Sometimes the book seems slightly confusing with so many stories, perhaps in part because the novel also spans many countries (England, France, South Africa and other places in Africa). There are two mother-daughter pairs, one husband-father, and another figure whose identity can't be explained without giving away the denouement of the novel.

Ballet suffuses the novel, and the Stravinsky ballet Pulcinella seems to be the inspiration for the plot, in which a series of serendipitous meetings and mishaps are ultimately choreographed into a `dance of fate'.

The novel is written in the third person and present tense, with the writing being in places slightly detached, if not omniscient. The characters are treated with warmth and the kind of humour that is achievable when the telling is omniscient. The daughters' voices (Cat and Zoe) are captured particularly well. Overall, it is a lovely read.
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on 30 August 2010
I read this immediately after finishing a sad & difficult book (Marilynne Robinson!) & it quickly provided a tonic - although I was a little disappointed at first, wondering if it was going to be too insubstantial. The characters' voices are perhaps a bit too well drawn to take for page after page - in particular the two young girls, but overall it does work, & I was sad to reach the end.
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VINE VOICEon 29 June 2011
A beautifully written novel with interesting and complex characters. The story moves fluidly between England and South Africa and tracks the lives of Josh, Caroline, Hattie, and Hermann and their respective children,siblings and parents. There are some wonderful insights in to these peoples' personalities and their foibles, strengths and failings.

I was only prevented from giving this book 5 stars because I felt the ending stretched the bounds of credulity in order to tie up the story. Strongly recommended both for an insight in to the human psyche and it's amusing take on the sometimes difficult mother/daughter relationship.
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on 28 February 2013
Just the read I was looking for. Barbara Trapido is great at her craft. Her characters are all interesting. If I don't fall in love with them all they are nevertheless intriguing. They come to life; they jump out of the page. Her sentences are all so well constructed; just what one would expect. I love 'people' books and these are the ultimate in such. Her literary references are no light-weight drop-ins; they increase one's interest. One doesn't wish to put them down until the last page is reached. I'm on the war path for more of the same.
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