Monday, April 10, 2006

Back from Blue Metropolis Bleu festival in Montreal. Read with Yann Martel and Camilla Gibb, and had a book launch at which the refreshments were consumed by attendees at the previous event in the same room. A good time was had by all!

Upcoming: Ottawa Literary Festival reading at the National Library of Canada, as below:

THURSDAY, April 20 @ 8:30 pm
Writing Life #2:
Linda Holeman, Susan Glickman and Martha Baillie
$15 / $12 Student or Senior / $8 Festival Member

An evening of acclaimed fiction with an international flavour: The Moonlit Cage, set in 1850's Afghanistan, the latest from Linda Holeman; The Violin Lover, set in 1930's Europe, the debut novel from acclaimed poet Susan Glickman; and The Shape I Gave You, a story of memory and the weight of guilt from Martha Baillie.

"Well-paced, creative and addictive."
- Winnipeg Free Press on Linda Holeman

"One of the finest of the new generation of Canadian writers."
- The Journal of Commonwealth Literature on Susan Glickman

"Haunting... Full of finely wrought detail."
- Bronwyn Drainie on Martha Baillie

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Lovely Review in the Globe and Mail Saturday April 1st -- No Fooling!!

Lovely Review in the Globe and Mail Saturday April 1st -- No Fooling!!

Sonata for three


The Violin Lover

By Susan Glickman

Goose Lane, 250 pages, $22.95

In her first novel, The Violin Lover, Canadian poet Susan Glickman trains her clear eye upon the nature of, and conflicts between, art, domesticity and identity. Like its protagonist, Dr. Edward Abraham, The Violin Lover's passionate core is concealed -- but not obscured -- by a cool, elegant layer of observation. Each moment is captured in richly descriptive language, pure, poetic and precise. Not surprisingly, since Glickman is the author of five acclaimed poetry collections, including the recent Running in Prospect Cemetery (2004), in addition to a prize-winning volume of literary criticism. With The Violin Lover, she makes a seamless transition from poetry to prose.

Set in London, the novel begins in the autumn of 1934, concluding in spring, 1936. This brief year-and-a-half brings together Clara Weiss, an attractive young widow; Jacob, her 11-year-old son and a piano prodigy; and Edward, doctor, violinist and lover. A passion for music brings them together, but it is Clara and Ned's mutual passion that ultimately drives them apart.

Ned is the apex of this triangle. Both Clara and Jacob seek a fulfilment in him that is doomed. Jacob is searching for both a musical soulmate, for "they both possessed a spiritual hunger for which music was a form of sustenance," and a father figure, someone in whom "he found himself moving towards the kind of speculations he once shared with his father." Clara initially seeks a physical soulmate in Ned: "Their hunger was mutual and intemperate. . . . Clara had never experienced such urgency of desire before." But eventually, Clara, warm and loving, needs more than a sexual affair, but Clara and Jacob embody the twin horrors that Ned has, until now, scrupulously avoided: the fetters of domestic responsibility and his own Jewish identity.

Is domesticity inimical to artistic creation and personal autonomy? Ned and Clara's competing histories and needs illuminate the difficulties of creating timeless art -- for Ned, music, for Clara, painting -- while tied to temporal responsibilities. Abandoned by his rabble-rousing, anarchist father for the Bolshevik revolution, raised by a coldly distant mother, Ned has never experienced felicity in domestic relationships. Quoting a character from a Henry James short story -- "One has no business having any children if one wants to accomplish anything artistic" -- Ned resolutely follows that dictum with the freedom inherent in male privilege.

Clara, abandoning private fantasies of art school and travel, obediently follows the conventional path of marriage and children. Yet, despite her frustrated aspirations, she asserts: "Could any painting I might have made be as precious as my children are? Never! Of that I am sure." Ned and Clara's discord is never tritely polemical and Glickman takes no sides. They are creatures of their time and place.

And what a time and place to be Jewish. The quieter, more discreet melody of polite British anti-Semitism is now accompanied by the rising, crude ostinato of Hitler's terror and Britain's own fascist Black Shirts. Unlike Clara, Ned finds no strength or pride in his heritage. His Jewishness is an unredeemable history of loss and pain, of vulgar epithets ("sheeny") and Lucy Chadwick, "fresh as the dawn of Creation, fair hair knife-edged and shining," forbidden to him, a "shabby little Jew." Ultimately, Ned realizes that he hates being Jewish "because other people's contempt made him feel ashamed."

It is not just Clara's "relentless maternity" that disturbs Ned, nor Jacob's innocent admiration, but their Jewishness, a history "he had so fervently rejected." It threatens the identity Ned has constructed for himself: the cool sophisticate, the talented violinist, yearning to disappear into the café society of Vienna, his true mistress of "brilliant anonymous façades, the glitter of street-lamps on cobblestones." As their worlds collide, disaster seems inevitable.

Early in The Violin Lover, Jacob explains to his mother the sonata, a musical form generally used to structure the first movement of a composition from the classical 18th century to the 20th century. He explains the complex form with simplicity: "Happy, sad, happy -- major key, minor key, major key." But sometimes, the form is reversed. Dividing the novel into three parts, Glickman masterfully structures The Violin Lover in sonata form, mirroring and reflecting the musical and narrative themes that underpin the book. Part One, the exposition, introduces the thematic melodies of Clara, Jacob and Ned. In Part Two, the development, their melodies begin to intertwine as their relationships grow and deepen. In Part Three, the recapitulation, the melodies separate as they are agonizingly torn apart.

Glickman's mastery and maturity are evident in The Violin Lover. Its final moments are as moving and inevitable as the flow of music toward its conclusion. Readers will be richly rewarded by the beauty and power of her artistry.

Dvoira Yanovsky is a special education teacher and a book reviewer for Outlook

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Great Review in the National Post Saturday March 25

"Violence and violins converge in London"

Michael Greenstein
Weekend Post
Saturday, March 25, 2006


By Susan Glickman
Goose Lane Editions
242 pp., $22.95

Like Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Don Coles, Anne Michaels, Michael Redhill and a host of other Canadian writers, Susan Glickman has taken a turn from verse to fiction. An accomplished poet and non-fiction author, she manages the transition to her first novel, The Violin Lover, with assurance. Whereas Anne Michaels's Fugitive Pieces uses music in a more metaphoric and abstract sense, Glickman's knowing narrator looks back to the more traditional prose forms of Henry Kreisel and Adele Wiseman.

In the 19th century, Walter Pater maintained that all art aspires toward the condition of music, and The Violin Lover adheres to this maxim. Set in London in the mid-1930s, this passionate love story is structured around seasonal rhythms as well as a three-part musical composition, like the sonata form, suited to the subject of a love triangle. In addition, the cyclical rhythms of these Vivaldian seasons underscore finely attuned repetitions in a contrapuntal fugue form.

The first movement, "Autumn-Winter 1934," is subdivided into three chapters -- "A Body," "Aufschwung" and "Jewish Music." "A Body" opens with a slow andante rhythm: "The boys were riding the sphinx when they noticed it, floating down the Thames in a leisurely way... Their shrill voices interrupted Dr. Edward Abraham's post-concert reverie as he strolled along the Embankment." This mysterious bearded corpse is never identified (though it is thought to be a Jew), and Dr. Abraham, the protagonist familiarly known as Ned, chooses to ignore it, just as he flees from other emotional issues and commitments in the novel.

A physician by day, Ned also plays the violin, which leads him to a meeting with Jacob Weiss, a promising young pianist, and his mother, Clara, with whom Ned soon has a complicated affair. Ned is not only a patriarch, but a wanderer forced to leave his home, as do so many of the fathers in this fatherless novel. The man about town longs to be a man of the world: On the one hand, the modern Wandering Jew is exiled from the ghetto in search of a broader emancipation; on the other hand, he abandons tradition and domesticity in the person of his wife and children. This inner conflict forms but one of the many tensions in Glickman's historic fiction, tensions that are finely adjusted, as the strings on a violin.

Ned's river walk continues in the andante movement: "Fishing and music had always provided the most reliable solace, and they remained linked in his imagination. Slow arts, both of them, demanding patience and attention and endless repetition." Glickman's omniscient narrator orchestrates her characters and modulates repetitions in a variety of minor and major keys. She unfolds the complexities of Ned's character, especially his relationship to Jacob and Clara.

As the narrative shifts from Ned to Jacob, we are offered the child's perspective that develops throughout the novel. Jacob's piano recital of Schumann's "Aufschwung" (which means "soaring" -- another leitmotif that unravels during the course of the novel) impresses everyone, and his teacher arranges for him to play in the future with Dr. Abraham, who eventually serves as his surrogate father. Jacob has recently lost his father to stomach cancer; Ned's father abandoned his family to return to Russia for the futile Bolshevik cause; a natural affinity between the two fatherless sons grows into a symbiotic relationship beyond their musical accompaniment.

Yet, given Ned's isolationist, distancing character, he cannot get involved beyond a certain point. His cosmopolitan need for freedom eliminates the possibility of any domestic attachment. Alternating between Ned's life and Jacob's life, Glickman's narrative plays a duet between violin and piano, weaving in and out of their overlapping lives, with Clara caught in between.

"Jewish Music" refers to Mendelssohn's "Song without Words", which Jacob plays for Clara, but Jewish music lies also at the core of The Violin Lover. The chapter begins with three generations and domestic details in Clara's family, shifts to Ned's violin and medical practice, reverts to Jacob at the piano, back to Ned's practice and family background, continues with Clara's family background and concludes with Ned's domestic and hospital routine. These sequences form a satisfying pattern interspersed with the narrator offering the history and esthetics of musical instruments, and examining Ned's heart, which is "hidden and inconsolable."

In addition to the tragic inner drama between Clara and Ned, we are reminded of the looming tragedy in Europe with the rise of the Nazis. This impinges on Jacob's family directly when Oswald Mosley's hooligan Blackshirts attack his grandfather's place in London's East End, an incident that follows the Passover Seder with Clara's family. The heated political exchanges during the Seder not only increase the tempo, but also point to the uncomfortable position of Jews in an anti-Semitic society. Ned has never felt at home in England and wishes to escape to Vienna with its romantic musical history; Clara, who has never travelled, longs for that kind of romantic escapism as well; but neither of them succeeds in this endeavour. Inner and outer worlds converge catastrophically: "What was happening in Germany became a kind of counterpoint to their affair. First they would make love, then they would argue."

Even if violins and violence are not etymologically related, they are close enough in sound to make sense: "Both the piano and the violin make music by causing strings to vibrate. Perhaps an ancient archer heard the thrumming of his string after the arrow had taken flight... Was it because of such inadvertent discoveries that Apollo, god of music, was twinned with his sister Artemis, goddess of the hunt?" Glickman pulls at her characters' and readers' heartstrings: Ned impregnates Clara, convinces her to have an abortion, then deserts her, though not without making plans for Jacob's education. Ned may be a good man at heart, but his heart is faulty. After performing the abortion, he loses his licence and leaves for Austria where the Alps swallow him, uniting him with his father in Russia and the abandoned body in the Thames.

If the soaring Alps belong to the "sublime," then Clara's painting (which she resumes at the end) partakes of the "picturesque" mode -- a subject Glickman covers in her critical study of the poetics of the Canadian landscape. As a first novel, The Violin Lover neither misses a beat nor strikes a false note.

© National Post 2006

And one in the Globe and Mail today: