GRACE NOTES by Bernard MacLaverty

GRACE NOTES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A lyric novel about music and motherhood. Catherine McKenna is an Irish-born pianist and composer whose emotional turbulence sets the tone for a significant part of the story's soft yet visceral verbal music. Catherine's unusually delicate sense of psychic balance is thrown off by two events in particular: the birth of her first child, Anna, and the sudden death of her estranged yet beloved father. Catherine is not married; her mate is a (mostly) lovable drunkard. As an iconoclastic only child who left her family's home in a small town near Belfast for a university education and career in Scotland, the adult Catherine rarely visits or phones her disappointed parents. Her musical career, though, is flourishing, with the BBC broadcasting her work and commissions coming her way at last. Using flashbacks, interior monologues, and dialogue, MacLaverty very gradually creates a complex, dimensional character, until the third-person narrative seems to speak directly to us from Catherine's struggling soul: ""It gave Catherine a strange feeling, this invisible cascade of darkness. She felt suffocated by it quilting downwards--whatever it was. This diminuendo of light brought about by something intangible--odourless--invisible."" The drawback of MacLaverty's mildly impressionistic approach is the slow, even anticlimactic pace of some scenes, those portraying the domesticity of Catherine's relatively cloistered life, for example, or those, especially, involving her father's death, which open the story. Catherine's character, as it emerges from the fragmentary narrative, tends to overshadow everyone else in a novel guided less by ""story"" than by musical tides and perturbations. It's clear that MacLaverty (Walking the Dog, 1995, etc.) has tried to do something rather difficult: to suggest the interior life of an artist struggling to balance the urgent demands of creating music and the equally pressing demands of life. Very often, he succeeds in this complex portrait of a woman who is, first and foremost, an artist.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1997
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Norton