2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Portrait of the Artist as A Young Girl,
This review is from: Grace Notes (Paperback)
A very impressive and beautifully written novel about a woman composer. Bernard MacLaverty follows the life of Catherine McKenna from her childhood in a Catholic home in Northern Ireland and her intense relationship with her music-loving alcoholic father and gentler relationship with her mother and grandmother to her university days, studying music in Belfast, Glasgow and Kiev, her time schoolteaching on a Scottish island (when she becomes entangled with the seductive but also destructive Dave), her experiences as a single mother and her struggles to become a fulltime composer, culminating in the triumphant broadcast of a major orchestral work. (None of this is a spoiler; MacLaverty begins his story after the broadcast, with Catherine's first return to her childhood home for years, and works backwards through flashbacks, a long central section dealing with Catherine's time on the island and a final section dealing with her life back in Glasgow working as a composer.) MacLaverty writes with great intelligence about music and about the difficulties that face composers, particularly female ones, and is particularly good on the relationships between Catherine and her teachers. He also brings the different places that influence Catherine in her work (rural Northern Ireland, the beaches on the Scottish island, Kiev just after Communism) very well to life, and works Irish politics convincingly into his story. Catherine is a compelling and interesting heroine, and there are several other vivid figures in the book (her father, who adores her but ultimately rejects her, her gentler, very devout mother, Miss Bingham her ferociously devoted music teacher, the Ukrainian and Chinese composers with whom Catherine studies and her friend Liz, to name but a few). Catherine's tragic relationship with Dave was also well portrayed though I'd have liked to know more about what drew the pair together as they seemed to have so little in common - was it largely loneliness and Dave's good looks on Catherine's part? The final section of the book, focussing on Catherine's work and her experiences of motherhood, was particularly fine - and congratulations to MacLaverty for writing so well as a man about post-natal depression.
All in all a superb read. From what I've seen of MacLaverty's other books it's rather gentler than his usual writing - I'd certainly be interested to find out if he's written any more about music and musicians.
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Initial post: 27 Jun 2013 17:14:45 BDT
Susie B says:
Lovely review Kate - I haven't read anything by this author before but, after reading your review, I just had to add this to my basket - more expense! Best wishes, SusieB.
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