Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: AS MUSIC AND SPLENDOUR, by Kate O'Brien

As Music and Splendour, by Kate O'Brien. Published 2005 by Penguin Ireland. Literary Fiction.

As Music and Splendour is a book to fall in love with, but also a book to make you think. It tells the story of two Irish teenagers, Clare and Rose, who are sent to a music school in Paris by their communities to become professional singers. Their education is not a gift; it is literally a debt to be repaid, and both girls are expected to earn out their tuition once they graduate and take their place among the professional opera stars of Italy.

In Paris they are awkward and shy and still just children; but when they go to Rome they transform and begin to become what they are destined to be. Both young women work hard at singing and take their obligations seriously, and both are gifted with voices that lend themselves to their work. Clare finds a surer home in sacred music while Rose finds a natural place in the world of opera. They attract attention from those around them- fellow singers, Irish expatriates, devotees and hangers-on of the world of music. They fall in love, Rose with a moody Frenchman named Rene and an aristocratic Italian, Antonio; Clare finds herself in a triangle with her music teacher Duarte and his student, Luisa.

I think what I loved about this book is how comfortable the characters seem with themselves even as they struggle to grow up and find themselves. Clare and Rose know the world they live in- the stage- is not the one for which their Irish upbringing has prepared them, but they accept it anyway, because it's what they want. These women do not spend a lot of time angsting over sin or choices or the strange turns life takes. They accept them, and move on, even when they suffer heartbreak. They are clear-headed; they know what they want, and they take it. When they come against their limitations, they find a way to make things work anyway.

And I loved Clare and Rose for their vivacity and joie de vivre. She doesn't make her heroines blushing virgins but women who aren't afraid of life. O'Brien has created two very appealing heroines, very modern in their self-confidence and very real in their frailties. She has also created a compelling world and brought the world of music beautifully to life including a variety of intriguing and colorful supporting players. If you love books about Italy and music especially you will enjoy this book! As Music and Splendour is a wonderful book that will keep you reading and keep you under its spell, and then it will leave a lovely melody behind.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.