Only get past the unhappily chosen title here and you'll be immersed in a many-pleasured tour de force that sweeps you along through the intimate details of European history and music from 1670 to the despair- and hope-touched present. A fine second novel by the the author of Safe Houses (1985). For 50 years, Britisher Nicholas Jordan has devoted himself to the revival of baroque music, earning international fame and success as a master performer on the viola da gamba—an early instrument similar to the cello but supported by the inner calves of the performer's legs. Age, however, has brought his career to a close, and as the novel takes place, Nicholas is attending a concert (in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles) played by his heir-apparent and successor-to-be. During the concert, Nicholas thinks back, chapter by chapter, over his life of music, flawed love, passion, tragedy, surprise, achievement, and doubt. Marvelous as these chapters are as the portrait of a man and an artist, however, they alternate with something more marvelous still: chapters actually spoken by the musical instrument with which he has spent his life ("I am Rose, Viola da Gamba"). Rose was created in 1670 by one Christophe Bernhard, passed over the centuries from owner to owner (she was once featured in a painting by Vermeer), was played by the famed masters Marais and Forqueray, survived the French Revolution, fell into the desuetude of pawnshop and museum, underwent adulteration and absurd redesign, then finally was resurrected in her life with Nicholas Jordan. There is no mistaking that what existed between them was both art and love ("How he loved her, her smooth surface, the hollow depths of her, the delicate contours of her body"), and the novel, as an extended study both of passion and art, avoids remarkably both the cartoonish and the maudlin at every step: a success due in part to its author's craft, daring, and skill, but also to the wise, unquenchable, and bravely intelligent character of Rose herself: "Listen to my voice, which resembles the human in all its inflexions. . ." A moving and delicate work of captivating depth and learnedness (however lightly worn).
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