A composer looks back on a life nurtured and challenged by a crumbling English country house.
The plot of Solomons’ fourth novel caroms between the 1940s and '50s and the early 2000s. In the present, septuagenarian Harry Fox-Talbot, known as Fox, a celebrated conductor and composer, is mourning the death of his wife, Edie Rose, a famous singer. Back in 1946, as Fox returns from boarding school and his two older brothers, Jack and George, from World War II, their father, the General, is contemplating demolition of their English country house, Hartgrove Hall, which is severely dilapidated after several decades of neglect and recent use as a billet for troops. The three sons resolve to save Hartgrove by farming the land, and the General gives them one year to succeed. The plan is complicated by Fox’s decidedly nonrustic musical ambitions and the fact that Jack, the oldest son and sole heir to Hartgrove, has secretly married Edie, a Jewish songstress known for her stirring wartime ballads, much to the General’s alarm. And Fox’s, because not only do he and Edie have musical aptitude in common, he is obsessed with her. Distraught, Fox leaves Hartgrove and goes to London to make his fortune under the tutelage of illustrious conductor Marcus Albright. In the present, these conflicts appear to have been resolved: Hartgrove is fully restored and Fox owns it. He and Edie had a long and happy marriage which produced two daughters, Clara and Lucy, and three grandchildren, including 5-year-old Robin, a piano prodigy. A grieving Fox finds a degree of solace in championing Robin’s talent. The main source of suspense is how these reversals of fortune occurred. Despite a clichéd redemptive close, the principal characters are not sympathetic enough, nor does the love affair seem compelling enough, to make us care.
Will appeal mainly to readers seeking inside glimpses into the classical music world.