Thursday, 6 May 2010

The Musician's Daughter by Susanne Dunlap

GENRE: historical fiction

It is Christmas Eve in Vienna, 1779. Theresa’s father is a violinist in Prince Esterhazy’s orchestra. Her godfather is the famed composer and director of the orchestra, Franz Josef Haydn. Theresa is not simply the daughter of a musician, she is a talented musician herself. She grew up in the rich musical world of a prince’s court, and learned to play the violin and the viola. Her father’s death is a blow beyond imagining, and begins her journey from childhood to adulthood, through the Gypsy encampment on the outskirts of the city, to the imperial court itself.

The novel already begins with excitement, as Theresa’s father is brought home dead. He was murdered and the family is in turmoil. Theresa wants to know what happened to her father; why someone who was so good to everyone was murdered, and what happened to his beautiful violin that is now missing.

I liked Theresa’s character immediately. She is a lady of her time, but she is a bit ahead of her time at the same time. Not in an annoying, unrealistic kind of way; she just does not consider getting a husband and children as the highlight of her life. She is in love with music, and wants music to be a part of her life. She plays the viola and wants to play the violin, an instrument her mother considers improper for a lady, and she wants to make a career in music as a music teacher. She wishes for things that are unacceptable for a girl in the society of Theresa’s time, but she is not afraid to wish for them regardless and is determined to be happy.

The famous Haydn was very cleverly included into the novel. Theresa’s father was a violinist in the orchestra of Prince Esterhazy, led by Haydn. Haydn was known to have been godfather to the children of his musicians, and so his role in Theresa’s life is completely believable and acceptable. The history, the politics, real historical people and the political intrigues of the time were well researched and cleverly dealt with. Everyone has a clear place, and the plot never confused me. Everything was clear and well explained. I could actually believe that this story happened for real. Theresa’s role in the political intrigue was not forced. I am always glad to stumble upon a brave heroine who is not too perfect, but is a girl that might actually exist, or might have existed.

Music is an important part of the novel, as is quite typical of Dunlap’s novels. The author’s descriptions of how Theresa felt about music, what it meant to her, how she touched her instrument and played on it, what she felt when she played – they are extremely beautiful. Someone who loves music will definitely appreciate those descriptions and feel them, as well as understand them. As a lover of music and a classical singer, I could definitely appreciate Dunlap’s homage to music. The history lover in me was just as pleased with historical accuracy and details. The period of Empress Maria Theresa and her son Joseph is popular with readers and authors, I think, but I am glad that someone finally tackled the question regarding the Roma people of that time. This historical period has much to offer, and I am glad the author did not simply aim for the obvious. Nothing is wrong with the obvious, of course, but it’s nice to read about a different historical aspect for a change. This time, the Roma people were in the foreground.

I liked the ending as well. It is an open ending, but not too open. It is indicated what the reader might expect. It’s not rounded up like a fairy-tale where everything needs to really end perfectly. I know Theresa and Zoltan will have a nice future, and most probably, they will spend it together.

I only missed suspense and tension. The story called for it, but there was not enough of it present, I think.

This novel was a truly delightful read from start to finish. I fully recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction, and music, of course.


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