The Tuesday Night Club has chosen history as this month’s theme, in any way the blogger likes to interpret it.
Bev at My Reader’s Block has, as ever, produced a great logo for us, and she is also collecting the links this month.
Anyone is welcome to join in, either as a one-off or on a regular basis. Just contact one of us.
This is also Friends Week on the blog – I am featuring books by several of the people I have come to know online, (see yesterday’s entry on Christine Poulsons’s Deep Water) Happily one of them also fitted nicely into the History category…. So here we have:
Death Notes by Sarah Rayne
[Jessica is struggling with her memories] ‘Bea does your house – Tromloy – does it have an old fire screen? About this big…’ The spoiled hands indicated. ‘Stuck all over with bits of old posters and newspaper cuttings and photographs? Faces of people from the past?... And there’s a room with a fireplace and a rocking chair…
There’s a picture on the wall…’ Her eyes narrowed in an effort of memory. ‘A man standing on a stage. He’s wearing really old-fashioned clothes. And he has woolly hair on each side of his face – like bunches of cotton wool.’
[Eventually Jessica sees what she remembered] The fire screen. It was here after all. It was standing in the chimney corner… The screen was exactly as she had seen it. There were the pasted-on photos, and bits of old posters of concerts and musical evenings.
commentary: This is a great example of a book that combines historical and contemporary settings: it’s the first of a new series from Rayne, who has a lot of titles in her past, often with horror and historical overtones. The new books will be ‘psychological thrillers, focussing on a music researcher, Phineas Fox.’
Death Notes follows Fox (modern-day character) as he tries to find out about a dead musician, Roman Volf. A composer and violinist, Volf was executed in Russia in the 1880s for an assassination attempt on the Tsar. Fox is looking at making a TV documentary, and also wonders if there might be more to the story than meets the eye. Could he have been innocent?
His researches take him to the west of Ireland, where he encounters a woman who has suffered a family tragedy, an enigmatic man ‘who has his own darknesses to fight’, and a deeply dysfunctional family with their secrets and sins. Interspersed with this are diaries and documents from long ago, autobiographical papers from a low-rent musician, who is obviously going to be the link between the lost Russian composer and the modern-day goings-on.
The story is packed with incident and an unrelentingly busy plot, in a good way… you keep suddenly remembering characters, and hints from the past, and wondering how they will link up. The picture of modern-day London (although fleeting) was very nicely done, and the west of Ireland comes over well too. I did particularly enjoy the extracts from Mortimer Quince’s diary, with the running joke that he is unaware of his own complete lack of talent:
I put such a sob into my voice that two cleaners who had been sweeping the back of the auditorium were so deeply affected they had to leave by the nearest exit. I count this a true accolade.
There is a definitely unusual mixture of history, some very nasty incidents, and great good humour. Once you get used to the changes of tone – and they are quite surprising – it is a most entertaining book with some lovely characters. And there is a wonderful atmosphere of old-fashioned theatres, struggling musicians, boxes full of sheet music, playbills and ancient black and white photos.
[later] I believe there was quite a run on the bar in the interval immediately after my appearance, which speaks for itself.
And there’s some good history. Finn mentions the Skomorokh Theatre:
It was named for the skomorkhs – maybe that should be skomorokhi. They were a form of mediaeval harlequin – itinerant performers who could sing and dance and play music. They wrote their own dramas and even their own music.’
--this would also have fitted right in with my recent entry on harlequins and the commedia dell’arte.
‘Skomorokh – would the word link to Scaramouche? The Harlequin figure?’
The man with the mutton chop whiskers is the very distinguished violinist Paganini – Roman Volf played hismusic.
The white-haired violinist is the Norwegian performer and composer Ole Bull.
The pages of small pictures are from Flickr, I hope giving an impression of collected theatrical photos.
I read an advance copy, but the book will be out very soon…