Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Bel Canto and The Soloist: Good Novels about Music and Its Power--and a Ray of Hope for Writers Everywhere

I’m trying to get started on another work of fiction, now The Violets of Usambara is safely published. It’s likely to include some musicians as characters and so I’ve been combining work and pleasure this summer by reading novels where music is a major element. Two of the best so far are Mark Salzman’s The Soloist and Anne Patchett’s Bel Canto

The latter I particularly liked, because it evokes just how music can move people with an adventure story which gives a most interesting look at an unnamed South American country that bears a startling resemblance to Peru.

Bel Canto was a resounding critical and popular success, but Patchett makes clear that finding an audience for her work was not something that she did overnight. In a fascinating article in The Atlantic, she writes about selling her books through appearances in books stores, sometimes when the only people listening to her read were the store’s employees.

I know what she means: there have been many times when, as Canadian writer Merilyn Simonds puts it, I knew the middle name of everyone at the reading. How encouraging it is to read about Patchett”s long--but ultimately successful--struggle to connect with readers.

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