Sunday, August 12, 2007

Alicia's Gift

This totally unputdownable book by Jessica Duchen is about a family whose daughter is extremely talented musically and begins to play the piano at the age of 3. She continues to develop, and goes on to win major prizes, but not without considerable cost - the mother gets all wrapped up in the daughter's career, always exhorting her to practice; she is sent to a demon teacher of the 'Russian school', the parent's marriage suffers and so on and so on. At the same time the daughter seems to replace something that is missing in the mother's life and as a reader you keep trying to shout at the mother, telling her not to make certain decisions. A lot of real people and places appear, such as Fanny Watermann. You keep reading the book and wondering what happens next. Hence unputdownable.

The story is set in Buxton, Derbyshire, to which the author has connections. It seems to be a slightly miserable, cold, gloomy place, though in the summer it looks quite nice. It also has a little opera house, which is quite surprising for such a small town. Part of the story also seems to be set in the Dartington Summer School - so while I was there, I checked out exactly how the masterclasses for talented youngsters went on....It all seemed to be above board, but I've been at many summer schools, where passions suddenly explode...

On a literary front, I would give it about 7 out of 10, with 10 being A S Byatt. But it's a great, intensive read, obviously written by someone who knows quite a lot about this business, and this way of life - it's a family story focussing very much on music.