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The Bells: A Novel Paperback – June 28, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 373 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (June 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307590534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307590534
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #318,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Chronicling the journey of 18th-century singer Moses Froben from his Swiss village to Vienna, this debut novel strikes many melodramatic notes in an overwrought plot; squalor, beauty, horror, forbidden love, tragedy, and triumph splash broadly, sometimes artfully, but often with operatic excess. Moses, born to a deaf-mute in a belfry, possesses a unique bond to music. Cast from his home, he joins a choir, discovering that he can mold "that ocean of sound... into something beautiful." Harvell, however, shows his own limitations when he seeks to describe the resonance of music. When Moses says, "I wished I could dissolve into sound," the reader shares his frustration. A tormented choirmaster castrates Moses to preserve his beautiful voice, transforming him into a "musico," a soprano whose voice never deepens, and who will never be a man. His ability to sound like an angel brings him into contact with a wealthy family, sparking an impossible love affair with a beautiful but crippled woman. Moses's ardor impels him to Vienna and its vibrant opera scene, where his brief appearance on stage allows love to triumph before, unsurprisingly, tragedy brings down the curtain.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Born in a belfry in the Uri Valley of the Swiss Alps, where his deaf-mute mother rang the Loudest Bells on Earth, Moses Froben possesses both a remarkably sensitive ear and an exquisite singing voice, enabling him to overcome his humble origins to become Lo Suizzero, the musical toast of Europe in the eighteenth century. In papers left for the son he raised but did not sire, Froben recounts being rescued from his father’s murderous plan by monks Nicolai and Remus and taken to their abbey, where the choirmaster recognizes the boy’s gift and goes to inhumane lengths to preserve it. In the neighboring town, Moses meets Amalia Duft, daughter of the area’s wealthiest man, whose love becomes a beacon for his life even after his castration. Despite an opening note that reveals part of the story, Harvell builds suspense as Moses struggles against the superior forces of the noble family Amalia is forced by duplicity to marry into, reaching a bittersweet conclusion. Taking few liberties with history, Harvell has fashioned an engrossing first novel ringing with sounds; a musical and literary treat. --Michele Leber --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Richard Harvell was born in New Hampshire, and now lives in Basel, Switzerland. He studied English at Dartmouth College. The Bells, his first novel, is an Indie Next Pick and is being translated into a dozen languages.

Customer Reviews

It is a true but unattainable love.
Wendi Morris
I really LOVE this book still.... I still don't like opera but I'm intrigued to go see one...because maybe I'm wrong.
K. Cade
I loved the cast of characters, all very unique individuals, very engaging and well developed.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Evelyn A. Getchell TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I happen to love classical music and opera in particular. I am not a musicologist by any stretch, but I have a deep appreciation for how great music makes me FEEL, how it speaks to my heart and reaches the soul. And THAT is what I love most about The Bells: A Novel ~ a splendid visceral novel that gives voice to sound, to vibration, to resonance, to tone... and puts into words how the beauty of pure sound is felt in the heart of the beholder.

Richard Harvell accomplishes this astonishing feat by juxtaposing in three acts the story of Moses Froben ~ the man who was made into an angel, "Lo Svizzero... who could bring an audience to tears with his voice" ~ with the great opera in three acts by Christoph Willibald von Gluck: ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE. ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE is not only one of my favorite operas, and one reason why I am so fond of this novel, but the Greek mythology upon which the opera is based is brilliantly applied to the plotting of The Bells: A Novel.

As always when I review, I'd rather not not give a plot summary away but leave it to the reader's own discovery to fall under the spell of great storytelling. To succumb to this novel's charm occurs easily because the well researched background provides all of the vitality necessary for the story to be taken seriously. Its sounds are real. Its settings are real. Some of its characters are real. The history is real. For this reader, the willing suspension of disbelief was easily come by for total engagement in this very original and most enchanting novel.
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Format: Hardcover
Harvell tells the tragic story of Lo Swizzero, the most celebrated musico in 18th century Europe. A most unusual love story, the emotional tenor of The Bells is dictated by the "otherness" of protagonist Moses Froben. Born to a deaf-mute mother in a remote village in the Swiss Alps in the mid-1700s, the child learns to measure feelings by sound, the rate of his mother's heartbeat, the resonance of the church bells she rings in the belfry. Mother and child exist in a rarified atmosphere, Moses acquiring an acute sensitivity to sound. When it is discovered that he can hear, the boy is banished for the knowledge of his father's identity. This bizarre beginning and brutal separation from his mother sets the tone for a jarring tale of the transcendence of music and the ugly reality of a prodigy in the clutches of those who would use him for their own ends.

Two men are pivotal in the boy's journey from his mother's arms to the Abbey of St. Gaul and later, Vienna, Remus and Nicolai, monks who are conversant with rejection. The boy is discovered in their care at the abbey, nearly ejected from that small security but for the choirmaster, Ulrich, who hears promise in the strangled notes of the boy's exceptional voice. Even a determined Nicolai cannot save Moses from Ulrich's heinous plans or the surgeon's knife. As a castrato, Moses embraces the power of his voice, knowing no other way, his future profoundly altered by the secret surgery. Attuned to the emotions of others, his internal world is calibrated by sound in lieu of language, the swiftness of a breath, Ulrich's touch upon his throat.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Farsh Askari on February 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Richard Harvell's debut novel, "The Bells," is a richly descriptive, highly visceral experience. Through the main character, Moses Froben, the reader experiences a heightened sense of hearing by experiencing the musicality in everyday sounds and the conduction of notes in non-traditional instruments such as stone walls, wooden doors and human flesh. Every object in Moses's world speaks to him in the song of its tones and musical resonance. Through Harvell's richly crafted writing, the reader isn't transported vicariously, but experiences the gift of music and song seemingly directly as if after a lifetime of only muted appreciation, suddenly a filter has been peeled off the ears and every sound is heard with infinitely greater complexity of interwoven notes and vastly amplified nuances.

The storyline of Harvell's "The Bells" is parallel to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Indeed the myth and the opera of the same name upon which it is based are integral to the plotline. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice becomes the story of the protagonist Moses and his love interest, Amalia. The novel, while fiction, contains actual people and historical references. This inclusion of historical events enhances the suspension of disbelief and foreknowledge of the carefully researched information woven into a well rendered, imaginative story portends both the creative and documentary feat that Harvell ultimately achieves with his debut novel.

As category, "The Bells" can be described as a love story and thriller set in the world of 18th century European opera. As such a high concept within that historical timeframe would indicate, the novel is laden with heavy prose. And at times the metaphors and florid language may feel excessive and consequently verbose.
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