Sparks fly when bohemians, aristocrats and those in-between collide in this latest historical novel with musical themes, from the author of Émilie’s Voice (2005).
The real-life romance of composer/pianist Franz Liszt and French aristocrat-cum-author Marie d’Agoult provides the backdrop for Dunlap’s tale of a teenaged comtesse’s travails. In 1832, 17-year-old Anne de Barbier-Chouant mourns the death of her beautiful mother, Sandrine, a victim of the cholera epidemic raging through Paris. She is further devastated when her stern, secretive father permanently bars her from their ballroom, which houses the pianoforte both mother and daughter loved to play. Even more musically gifted than Sandrine, Anne eagerly accepts the use of an instrument and the entrée to society offered by her mother’s friend, Comtesse Marie d’Agoult, a celebrated patron of the arts. Knowing her father disapproves, she conceals these outings, including a concert at which she swoons—literally—over rising star Liszt. Anne captivates handsome medical student Pierre Talon, who revives her, as well as Armand de Barbier, the young cousin whom the Marquis de Barbier-Chouant insists his daughter marry. Armand willingly covers for her as she studies piano with Liszt, who enlists the infatuated, unwitting girl in his seduction of Marie. Misunderstandings, and the eponymous kiss, inevitably ensue. But such deceptions pale beside what Anne’s father has withheld about her birth, his shrinking fortune and his true relationship with Armand. Things boil over the night she performs at a salon, and all is soon revealed.
A convincing grasp of Romantic period detail mostly compensates for occasionally clunky dialogue and forays into such bodice-ripping silliness as “his mouth closed over hers, not so much kissing as devouring her.”