A young girl’s life is changed forever when a famous composer and his wife move in next door.
For 11-year-old Hannah Gold, the arrival of aristocratic new neighbor Otto Von Ochsenstein brings unprecedented glamour and possibility into her bourgeois little world. With his gorgeous ballerina wife Charlotte Hec, the Polish-born composer and conductor of the Philadelphia Philharmonic is larger than life, and seems to live by his whims, respecting only music. After befriending Von Ochsenstein’s daughter, Juliet, budding cellist Hannah becomes a regular visitor to the family’s luxe residence, where she catches the maestro’s eye. The reptilian older man then takes to peering into her bedroom after dark with a pair of binoculars. Far from being creeped out, Hannah welcomes his attention, and in no time, the two are indulging in a disturbing nocturnal game of show-and-tell. Not content to merely spy on his nymphet, Von Ochsenstein moves on to seduction, making Hannah his mistress and protégé. Recognizing musical talent as well as beauty in the girl, Von Ochsenstein provides Hannah with both cello and life lessons, all the while keeping their sexual liaison secret. Eventually, a tragedy in the Von Ochsenstein home alters the relationship between the composer and his prized pupil. His callous treatment of his onetime beloved, though understandable, nevertheless breaks her heart, while leaving her ambition intact. Written from the unapologetic point of view of the now-grownup—and famous—Hannah, this slim novel uses an over-the-top descriptive style that believably evokes the fervid imagination of a besotted girl. Wagman (Mrs. Hornstein, 1997) also seems eager to make a point about true artistry being above society’s rules, and how well it succeeds depends on the reader’s tolerance for a premise liberally borrowed from Nabokov.
Sensual but florid novella on art and morality that never quite convinces.