Schilling, in her debut work of historical fiction, combines Beethoven with a charming bit of time travel.
Eighteen-year-old Annalisa Helfing, known to her closest friends as Elise, is a brilliant, hardworking student of classical piano. But just how gifted she is, and why, isn’t clear until she steps in front of a fast-moving car. The impact not only knocks her off her feet—it also knocks her out of time, transporting her back to a 19th-century version of her home village of Heiligenstadt. There, the notoriously cantankerous Ludwig van Beethoven has just arrived in town, where he’s trying to come to terms with his worsening hearing loss. The nuns at a nearby convent nurse Elise back to health, but her independent spirit gets her into trouble. Soon she’s put to work as “Mr. Ludwig’s” housekeeper, getting her out of the convent and within reach of a piano. The rest is, as they say, history—a rather lovely imagining of the story behind Beethoven’s famous composition “Für Elise.” Although Schilling sometimes resolves conflicts a little too easily, such as town gossip over young Elise’s living in Beethoven’s home, she steers past most potential clichés to create sympathetic, likable characters. The romance is sweet and, considering the era, a little scandalous, and when Elise’s musical ability catches the eye and ear of wealthy patrons, it’s thanks to hard work and endless practice, not some mystical, time-travel–related gift. “Elise, I cannot help you live in any other time than this one,” Beethoven says. “But if it comforts you, I want you to follow your dream and see it come to fulfillment.” It’s hard to say if Elise really knows what she wants: to return to her own time or to stay in the 19th century and explore a life as wife, musician and music teacher. Eventually, the choice is made for her, but not before she and Beethoven leave indelible marks on each other’s lives in Schilling’s fanciful novel.
A sweet escape for fans of classical music.