9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
An imaginative entry into a little known world,
This review is from: Music & Silence (Paperback)
The book opens in 1629, when Peter Claire, a young English lutenist, arrives to take up his post as a musician at the court of King Christian IV of Denmark. It then moves in a series of flashbacks and forward movements from this moment, both for Claire and for the King; for Kirsten Munk, the King's morganatic second wife; for Emilia Tilsen, one of Kirsten's young maid-servants; for the Countess O'Fingle in Ireland, whose husband is tortured unto madness by a tune he once heard and cannot recapture; for Marcus, Emilia's waif-like little brother; for Johann, her father in Jutland; and for the Rev. James Claire, Peter's father in Suffolk. For each of these characters Rose Tremain has created a distinctive style and voice, each a pleasure to read. She has great descriptive powers of people, place, and atmosphere. The personalities also, and the shifting relationships between them, are very distinctive: there is the huge, restless and tormented king, strangely confiding in Peter Claire; a truly monstrous regiment of women: the termagant and adulterous Kirsten, twenty-two years the King's junior, ruthlessly selfish and bullying all her attendants except for Emilia; Ellen Marsvin, Kirsten's mother; Sofia, the Queen Mother; and Magdalena, Marcus' wicked stepmother. Almost all the characters in the book are unhappy, and an air of sadness suffuses the whole novel.
Christian IV and Kirsten are certainly historical figures, as is the King's later mistress, Vibeke Kruse. Many times one feels sure that descriptions of the Danish court are based on historical research, as probably are the superstitious beliefs held by some of the characters. Personally I would have liked to know which of the other characters are inventions: Bror Brorson, for instance, Christian's boyhood friend and favourite who cannot read or write and who is banished for years from the court during Christian's minority: was there such a person? If he and others are invented, they are a great tribute to the richness of Tremain's imagination.
The energy of the book seems to me to flag somewhat in the second and third part of the novel, and there is some meandering; but it builds up to a tense ending and remains a remarkable achievement.