Tuesday, August 24, 2010
The Lyre of Orpheus
This was a bit of a slog to get through. I started it at the Coop and only finished reading it last Friday. Much like the other Davies book I read, it has a zillion characters which makes it hard to follow. Despite this, I really enjoyed it. Davies writing is very interesting. His stories are different. Many of the characters get developed in part because he takes the narration inside their heads.
In this book, the third of the Deptford Trilogy, there is an organization called the Francis Cornish Foundation. The Foundation is run by Arthur and Maria Cornish and, like good foundations, they try to fund projects. The project being funded is the completion of an opera. E.T.A. Hoffman died before he could complete his opera and an up and coming music student working on her PhD is trying to complete it. The opera is based on the story of King Arthur and not surprisingly, there are parallels between the characters in the opera and the characters in the novel.
You could probably write a good novel with just this trio of characters. The Cornish's and the music student. Davies adds friends of the Cornish duo who are on the board of directors, one who is writing a biography on Francis Cornish and who discovers that a famous painting attributed to a 16th century master was actually done by Cornish in the 20th century. This despite Cornish not being known as a painter (Cornish is a bit of a mystery which is part of the reason a biography is being done).
Add the friends and we're up to about seven or eight characters and there's a nice subplot going, too. That's fine. But the story really needs a musical supervisor, too. One that can have a same-sex relationship with a student twenty years her junior. Then the student falls for one of the Cornish friends who is a male. OK. that's just one more character and what's a novel with out relationships?
Maria gets impregnated. The problem is that Arthur is sterile. Oops. Another little subplot. That's it, though, right?
No. The spirit of E.T.A. Hoffman also gets involved at the end of each chapter to provide commentary. Apparently he is in limbo because of the unfinished work. That's it, though. Really.
No, it's not. We have the dissertation committee, a husband and wife of which the husband is also a PhD candidate who is doing his dissertation on the operations of the opera, the actors in the opera, a couple other staff members at the university where the student writing the opera is at, a pair of royalty who run a cosmetics firm that uses a logo which apparently was originally done by Francis Cornish and I'm sure I'm missing another half dozen characters and a subplot or two. It's just a lot going on over almost five hundred pages.
Even still, I like it. I like how Davies writes. I like the people in his stories. This novel was written in the 1990's but still has a feel of an older novel like Leaven of Malice. It bogs down from time to time but it is still entertaining and I'll keep reading Davies in the future.