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Volume 12 - Issue 10 - July/August 2007

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Book Shelfby Pamela

Book Shelfby Pamela Marg/esSummer lightSummer is a great time to read fiction, whetheryou're lying on the beach or waiting in an OttawaChamberfest line-up. And what's betterthan a tale about music? I was thrilled to findthese three novels, along with a collection ofshort stories by a young Toronto writer.Lanzmann and Other Storiesby Damian TarnopolskyExile Editions137 pages, paper; .95'Music's war,' Cesar Lanzmann tells a youngadmirer. He is in Pittsbugh to perform withthe famous string quartet he leads, the LanzmannQuartet. Lanzmann may indeed be thesuperb musician he claims to be. But when hetells us about the chamber music partners hehas gone through, we begin to realize hownasty he is.The young violinist, Alvaro, becomesthe sounding board for Lanzmann's vitriol. 'Ifit was up to me, all other quartets would bedestroyed, their recordings erased, ' he says,telling Alvaro how he has been continually sabotagedby other people. But it' s not just otherquartets he is out to destroy . He precipitouslyfires his second violin, Franz, and replaces himwith Alvaro without ever hearing him play.The inevitable disaster is all the more absurdfor the narrator's incomprehension.Tarnopolsky has a distinctive voice -witty, sardonic, poetic, and very, very funny.In very few pages he is able to create vibrantcharacters.Although Lanzmann is the only storyin this debut collection that directly involvesmusic, there are musical references in the remainingsix stories. In Blip, Gemma, a successfultrader, wants to go back to school tostudy music, 'her first love' . In The Norwegian,or: The Inherent Instability of Primes,Zoltan claims to have once auditioned for theCOC. The narcoleptic Lena turns on the radioto listen to classical music at the onset of herillness in Sleepy, my favorite story in this memorablydelightful collection.62Back to Ad IndexOvertureby Yael GoldsteinDoubleday303 pages; .00As if every mother-daughter relationship isn'tcomplicated enough, both mother and daughterin this novel are brilliant musicians. In factthe mother, Tasha Darsky, lets us know thatshe is not just a terrific violinist, but 'the mostfamous violinist since Paganini'. And her angryteenage daughter, Alex, is suffering for it.Tasha comes off as insufferably self-centered.'You were you, and beside you I was nothing,'she tells a former lover, a composer, toexplain why she left him years earlier. But themen in her life are all such narcissistic creepsthat, in comparison, she creates sympathy.For the most part the characters are true to life,especially Alex. The exception is Tasha, thenarrator, whose dissatisfactions make it trickyto figure out what she is really feeling . Only atthe end does she let on that her career as aperformer is in trouble.The writing in this first novel is spare,effective, and for the most part elegant, exceptwhen Goldstein overindulges her fondness forpuns and other wordplay. The lengthy discussionsof music, whether about Ligeti's texturesor how often women' s compositions areperformed by orchestras, feel entirely natural.I particularly liked the way Goldstein showshow contemporary music matters.Murder at the Operaby Margaret TrumanBallantine Books336 pages; .95'Life's like opera, Annie, ' Mac Smith says tohis wife. A young soprano from Toronto hasbeen found murdered during a rehearsal ofTosca at the Washington National Opera. Macwas there as a super in the production, as washis friend Ray Pawkins, a retired cop with aformidable collection of opera recordings anda cat named Wolfgang. Pawkins is the mostinteresting character here, apart from his habitof turning every conversation into a lecture onopera.Margaret Truman has a mischievoussense of humour. She notes that the son of thecurrent American President, Arthur Montgomery,hates living in the White House. Truman,the daughter of former President HarryTruman, grew up living in the White House.But some things just don't ring true. We canWWW .THEWHOLENOTE. COMlet pass that the Canadian Opera Companyhasn 't performed The Marriage of Figaro inthe Four Seasons Centre, as she claims. Butit's almost as hard to picture a Globe and Mailmusic critic buying a glass of wine for a performer'sagent as it is to imagine Mozart andHaydn collaborating on string quartets.Truman, a prolific writer, is particularly goodat describing what actually goes into stagingan opera. But the music itself doesn't form anintegral part of this complicated story. It couldhave taken place in a museum, or even a hospital.Nonetheless, Murder at the Opera is tightlyplotted and well-crafted, and I thoroughlyenjoyed it.The Tango Singerby Tomas Eloy MartinezBloomsbury256 pages, paper; .95Bruno Cadogan is in New York wntmg hisdoctoral dissertation on the great Argentinianwriter Jorge Luis Borges' essays on the tango.He visits Argentina for the first time totrack down the legendary singer Julio Martel,who specializes in original tangos from the earlyyears, like I Got Gut Rot From Your Manger.Martel is elusive. He performs only when hefeels like it, and only in what seem like randomlocales. Although he is chronically ill,his voice is startlingly pure, glittering and sweet.'People recognized in it feelings they' d lost orforgotten,' writes the author, Tomas EloyMartinez.In an extraordinary coincidence, Cadoganends up living in the same house whereBorges set his short story The Aleph. Cadogan'ssearch for Martel becomes tied up withhis obsession with finding the Aleph, a magicalilluminated point which contains the historyof the universe. It leads him through personalbetrayals and political chaos, and finallyto Martel.For Martinez, the tango represents thesoul of Argentina. A celebrated journalist aswell as novelist, he was exiled from his homelandover thirty years ago by the military regime.Martinez blends fantasy and reality in aninventive narrative style reminiscent of Borges.But Martinez' s exploration of the labyrinthinefabric of his beloved Buenos Aires isintensely personal. I found this richly layerednovel fascinating enough to read again.Back issues of Book Shelfare at www.thewholenote.comemail: bookshelf@thewholenote.comJ ULY 1-SEPTEMBER 7 2007

Anne-SophieMutter

Volume 26 (2020- )

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