And Vivaldi’s marvelous music, his melody and skillful word painting – which made it seem as if Alcina were alternately weeping and raging – only served to heighten this effect, creating more truth than words by themselves ever could.
Alyssa Palombo’s stunning debut novel, The Violinist of Venice – A Story of Vivaldi, is released in bookstores around Australia on 15 December 2015. Blessed with an early edition, I’ve already finished floating my way through the incredible musical imagery of her novel and I’m desperately hoping she’s already started writing another one.
Set in eighteenth-century Venice The Violinist of Venice traces the lives and love affair of Adriana d’Amato, a young Venetian noble, and that of Antonio Vivaldi, an up-and-coming composer and violinist.
The plot is compelling – how could it not be – a violent father, a young, passionate love affair that could never last, forced marriages and decisions that tore families apart.
The setting is delectable – I could almost feel the waves of the canals gently lapping against the gondola; the crumbling facades of Baroque Venice – both of the palazzo and society at large; the lavish excesses of Carnevale – the months-long annual party of Venice that endures today.
However, the real gem of this novel is the incredible talent of Alyssa Palombo to conjure up the power and passion of instrumental music using nothing more than print on a page.
This time I paid close attention to each and every note, to its sound and cadence and meaning, its place in the larger context of the melody. I began by playing carefully, gently, as if each note were a fragile, hesitant breath drawn into silence. As I went on, I let my bow sink ever so slightly into the strings, giving each note a sense of urgency I hadn’t heard before, that I hadn’t seen hiding between all the markings on the staff. The longer notes cried out for a bold, vivid crescendo that would make the room ring, but each time I resisted, allowing the sound to swell ever so slightly before returning it to the place of almost unbearable softness where it had started.
It didn’t surprise me to learn that Alyssa Palombo is a trained classical musician with degrees in English and creative writing – this book could not be written by someone who had never learned to play an instrument.
Whether it’s the full sound of an orchestra, the fevered frenzy of musical composition, the desperate beauty of sacrificing everything for the love of a single instrument – or a single, forbidden man – or the bitter anguish of betrayal, Palombo weaves her magical words to drag you through every last drop of emotion.
I could feel the events of the night before nibbling around the edges of my mind like rats with a crust of bread. I felt the urge to let them devour me, to remain in this bed for as long as it took for my memories to be eaten away entirely.
If you love historical fiction expertly anchored by historical fact, you’ll love this book.
If you love Venice and want to lose yourself in her endless canals, piazzas and palazzos, you’ll love this book.
If you just want a gut-wrenching, well-written romance story, you’ll love this book.
If you hate romance novels because they invariably involve stupid women swooning after unworthy men, you’ll love this book (no stupid women, plenty of unworthy men):
All women, I realized, on one such dark day, are shadow creatures. We all stand in the shadows of our fathers, our brothers, our husbands, our sons, our lovers. The sun shines only upon men. And a woman who would play or write music is in the deepest shadow of all, for her existence is usually not even acknowledged.
If you’re a musician or other creative type, you absolutely have to read this book. Palombo has somehow managed to capture in prose the blind drive to create – music, writing, paintings, it’s essentially the same – and the willingness to risk everything else in the pursuit of creativity.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of review.