Rose Tremain deserves a hallelujah chorus dedicated to her alone. A decade after the appearance of Restoration
, with its superb evocation of the British baroque, comes her glorious and enthralling Music and Silence
. Like the earlier novel, this one is a treasure house of delights--as haunting as it is pleasurable and teeming with real and imagined characters, intrigues, searches, and betrayals. The vivid scenes loop in and out, back and forth, like overlapping and repeated chords in a single, delicious composition.
The year is 1629, and King Christian IV of Denmark is living in a limbo of fear for his life and rage over his country's ruin, not to mention his wife's not-so-secret adultery. He consoles himself with impossible dreams and with music, the latter performed by his royal orchestra in a freezing cellar while he listens in his cozy chamber directly above. Music, he hopes, will create the sublime order he craves. The queen, meanwhile, detests nothing more. The duty of assuaging the king's miseries falls to his absurdly handsome English lutenist, Peter Claire, who resigns himself to his (so to speak) underground success:
They begin. It seems to Peter Claire as if they are playing only for themselves, as if this is a rehearsal for some future performance in a grand, lighted room. He has to keep reminding himself that the music is being carried, as breath is carried through the body of a wind instrument, through the twisted pipes, and emerging clear and sharp in the Vinterstue, where King Christian is eating his breakfast.... He strives, as always, for perfection and, because he is playing and listening with such fierce concentration, doesn't notice the cold in the cellar as he thought he would, and his fingers feel nimble and supple.
Other stories, each of them full of fabulous invention, intertwine with these musical machinations. There is the tale of the king's mother, who hoards her gold in secret; the tormenting memory of his boyhood friend, Bror; and the romance between Peter Claire and the queen's downtrodden maid, Emilia. And while the author paid meticulous mind to her period settings, her take on desire and longing has a very modern intensity to it, as if an ancient score were being performed on a contemporary (and surpassingly elegant) instrument. --Ruth Petrie
From Publishers Weekly
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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