Music & Silence

Rose Tremain, Author
Rose Tremain, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $25 (480p) ISBN 978-0-374-19989-0
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 512 pages - 978-0-7434-1826-3
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-0-09-926855-0
Hardcover - 16 pages - 978-1-4056-8301-2
Compact Disc - 978-962-634-975-5
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7540-0717-3
Prebound-Glued - 485 pages - 978-0-613-70861-6
Open Ebook - 464 pages - 978-1-4464-5065-9
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As she proved in Restoration, Tremain can write literary historical novels whose period details encompass the social and intellectual currents of their time and place. This dazzlingly imaginative, powerfully atmospheric work is set mainly in 17th-century Denmark. One of the protagonists is English, however, and Tremain captures the sensibilities of natives of both countries. British lutenist Peter Claire arrives in Copenhagen in 1629 to join the orchestra of King Christian IV. Depressed after a doomed love affair with a soulful Irish countess, Peter finds his melancholy mood mirrored by that of the king, who is beset by both financial and marital crises. That fruitless wars and profligate spending by the Danish nobility have depleted the country's coffers is the king's public woe; privately, his heart is anguished by the behavior of his consort, Kristen Munk, who despises her own children, keeps her spouse from her bed and is carrying on with a German mercenary. Recognizing in Peter's handsome countenance a resemblance to a lost childhood friend, Christian declares that Peter is the ""angel"" who will help solve his personal and national problems. Tremain's complex plot is built in small increments. Excerpts from the brazenly selfish Kirsten's diary alternate with the points of view of dozens of others, including Kirsten's lady-in-waiting Emilia Tilsen. Kirsten deems Emilia irreplaceable and prevents her from openly acknowledging her feelings for Peter. Love--requited and thwarted, healthy and perverted, damaging and healing--is one theme of the novel, represented by six pairs of lovers. Love is inextricably tied to the power to enslave; perhaps it's a form of enchantment, of which another manifestation is music. Tremain builds her narrative via alternating voices blending like the solos of musical instruments. Threading irony among its many leitmotifs (Christian IV, for example, who understands that music can ""lead to the divine,"" subjects his musicians to brutal living conditions), the narrative sweeps to a dramatic crescendo, with several characters in mortal danger and the prospect of tragedy everywhere. Yet it ends in felicitous harmony, a triumph of storytelling by a master of the art. 9-city author tour. (Apr.)
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