Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover review copy, 432 pages
Characters: The Diva, The Doctor, The Diva's husband
Subject: Opera, infertility treatment, careers for women
Setting: Boston, Trinidad, Florence Italy
Source: review copy from publisher
Challenge: ARC completed
I really wanted to like this book much more than I ended up doing. It was well-written, the story is compelling, the settings are all ones I'm familiar with and enjoy. But the characters ended up being ones I disliked intensely, and it's hard to explain why without giving away the entire story. Supposedly based on real people who are relatives of the author's son--the relationship was difficult to follow in her acknowledgments--the story of opera, gynecology, infertility treatment, and women's rights to a career and motherhood was one that McDonnell handled well. I just didn't like the people, the choices they made, or the consequences of their actions. That doesn't mean it wasn't a good book. It was. The story just left me very depressed-- or as my granddaughter is wont to say "Too bad, so sad."
Essentially Erika wants to be an opera singer. She is the daughter of a doctor, she is well educated, and for a well-bred woman of her social position living in the early 20th century in Boston, she has a great deal of personal freedom. Her husband Peter appears to adore her. He wants a baby badly, more we think to cement his image as the great provider and macho man, than because he has any great paternal instincts. Erika wants a baby because it will please Peter. At least they share a great sexual attraction, and the author often provides us much evidence of that side of the relationship.
Enter Dr. Ravell (do we ever learn his full name?), a new age gynecologist the couple consults to help with their inability to conceive. Apparently artificial insemination was being practiced in the early 1900's and no one talked about it. This was especially convenient since Peter (the husband) had a tendency to wander to exotic places as he pursued his 'business affairs' leaving Erika in the capable hands of the good doctor to be impregnated during his absence.
As the years pass, Erika has to deal with her increasing desire to go to Italy to study opera and become famous with her waxing/waning desire to have a child. I won't say why, but Ravell leaves town to run a coconut plantation in Trinidad, and the von Kesslers go for a visit to continue treatments (as far as Peter is concerned). Eventually Erika makes a heart-breaking decision to abandon Peter and her child to go to Florence to live a life of penury while pursuing her career. Yes they have a child, but I'll the details for the reader to discover.
We are supposed to feel sorry for her having to leave her child behind. The child is the one who is truly abandoned because the mother is in Italy and the father is still gallivanting around the world. There is what is supposed to be a 'happily ever after' ending but perhaps because the choices are different than those I would have made, I don't see them as happy.
It is a good book. It is a great read - even with an excess of details and choices that beg belief--it is a novel that will leap onto book discussion lists for several years. There's a lot to toss back and forth. These are characters that many will champion and others will vilify. Nobody will read the book and come away without an opinion.
Many thanks to Penguin book group : Pamela Dornan Books, of Viking Press for making the review copy available.
Posted by Tina at 12:02 AM