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"With a Cheshire Cat grin, he toasted the thought, the art, the murders."
on January 26, 2011
Set in 1923 England, Stace's novel of the tragic end to the short life and potential fame of composer Charles Jessod is steeped in the esoterica of music, the language and references of composition and the cultural values a community passionate about musical construction, motive and history. The eagerly anticipated seminal opera of Jessod's volatile career, "Little Musgrave:, is never performed for the public. A significant friendship with the increasingly irascible Jessod is chronicled in a short police report and the two-part journal of music critic Leslie Shepherd. Shepherd is witness to the development of the young composer's work, the two men sharing an appreciation for genius, the importance of folk song and its influence on the national psyche.
Jessod is enamored of the story of an Italian composer who kills his wife and her lover, then commits suicide on the eve of his own opera, a model for Jessod's similar demise years later, fueling the myth of the young Jessod's legacy. But the dislocation of the First World War both colors Jessod's evolution as an artist and the relationship between the two men, a blurring of boundaries that lends Shepherd's story an avuncular perspective. The war leads to political disenchantment with all things German for the stalwart Brits, including the composers England had so long embraced as cultural icons. But more than Jessod's story, this novel belongs to Shepherd, a man in thrall to genius and the ambiance of the creative environment. Wrapped in the layers of his erudition, Shepherd takes the entire length of the novel to shed his secrets and bare his soul, as tedious an account as the manner in which his need for expiation overcomes his reticence.
I understood from the start that this would be an unusual journey, certainly covering an area of interest beyond my appreciation for the particularity of detail, a rarified place where critics mingle with composers and national pride incubates. Fine. I wander into unfamiliar territory, awaiting enlightenment. Instead, with each new chapter, the essence remains elusive: I have barely gleaned the sense of this relationship or the passion of its inception, my brain cluttered with arcane verbiage like a stuffy Victorian parlor. When Shepherd finally regurgitates his secret, even this self-serving confession is wrapped in layers of obfuscation. Truly, I am at a loss to assign a rating, to ascertain whether I have been intellectually duped into complicity or too thick to appreciate Stace's talent for turn-of-the-century overstatement. I am exhausted but not inspired, neither in communication with art nor enriched by Shepherd's folly: "No more music. No More noise. " Indeed. Luan Gaines/2011.