An imaginative portrait of a schizophrenic man who believes he is Beethoven and the people charged with his care.
The Beethoven Years takes as its premise a passing comment the actor James Woods made to Newsweek magazine in 1986 and gets progressively more esoteric from there. Woods interviewed a homeless man suffering from schizophrenia while preparing for a film, and the man related to him a past in which he thought he was the composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Shearer uses this as the seed for his book, envisioning this man who went by the moniker â€œLudi Vann” and deliberately ruined his ear drums to become deaf. At its height, his illness is a sweeping, maniacal force polluting his entire life. God speaks to him through the â€œvertical eyes” of wall outlets, as Ludi is a whiz with electrical circuits and hardware. Though Ludi is hospitalized, medicated and thoroughly analyzed, he refuses to give up his famous alter ego. He is taken in by two halfway housekeepers, Brett and Ann, and becomes convinced that the latter is his â€œImmortal Beloved.” When Brett is found dead, Ludi is suspected, and flees, leaving in his wake only a cryptic letter. This letter, written as if from the hand of Beethoven himself, is eventually bought by a wealthy music collector, who sets out to ascertain its origins and validity. Throughout the novel, Shearer is clearly fascinated by the question of whether Ludi is happier when sick or well. A philosopher by trade, he asks pertinent questions about the nature of reality and the differing but no less â€˜real’ point of view that the mentally ill possess. The novel lags slightly when Shearer’s voicing Ludi, as his manic, hallucinatory rants can be difficult to follow. It’s a tall order to peg the tone of a schizophrenic, and fortunately the author employs several narrative techniques to interrupt the madness, including police reports and transcripts of interviews with Ludi’s psychiatrist. The book will be most enjoyable to readers learned in classical music, as Shearer is clearly a connoisseur and employs a number of advanced terms. There is an abundance of insular, almost academic bits of dialogue and humor, but the reader who diligently wades through will be rewarded in the end.
An intense, enjoyable piece for the erudite music lover.