In this week’s edition of bpbspine, we are combining our two favourite sources of comfort – books and music.
Cathi Unsworth’s The Singer: In 1981, a very successful punk band is torn apart when their lead singer, Vincent, disappears and his girlfriend is found dead. Twenty years later, a journalist obsessed with the case starts piecing together the clues to finally answer the question – Whatever happened to Vincent? The author is a musical journalist whose beat was the music scene of the 80s and 90s – could we ask for a better source for a musical thriller?
Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven: Recommended by Ann Patchett (and we would follow that woman anywhere), Station Eleven follows a nomadic troupe of musicians and actors in the Great Lakes twenty years after a pandemic wipes out most of the earth’s population. If you’re looking for well-written dystopian fiction, this is a good one.
Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity: Owner of a vintage record store in London, Rob sets out to reclaim his life after his girlfriend Laura leaves him. Set in the 90s where Top-5 lists of everything were making the rounds, Rob takes a stroll back through his Top-5 relationships while listening to his favourite music. This book has stayed beloved for twenty-two years and spawned a John Cusack movie.
Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto: When one of the world’s most famous opera singers performs for a concert hall full of distinguished guests in Peru, no one can anticipate that terrorists will take them hostage or that the terrorists will be young, inexperienced and have absolutely no appetite for violence. In the negotiation stalemate that follows for months, an unlikely, hilarious and touching community forms between the terrorists and the hostages.
Halldor Laxness’ The Fish Can Sing: Translated from the Icelandic by Magnus Magnusson, The Fish Can Sing is about the small, under-populated country’s biggest celebrity who never performs for his own countrymen. The celebrated opera singer takes a young boy with talent under his wing. But the boy’s love for music and his love for Iceland can’t be separated in this sweet coming-of-age novel about finding one’s own way.
Robin Benway’s Aubrey, Wait!: Aubrey is propelled into unwilling and overwhelming fame when a song written about her by her musical ex becomes a hit sensation. Suddenly, camera crews are following her everywhere as she navigates dating, friendship and plotting revenge. Meg Cabot says she loved this book, and when we need Princess Diaries-esque comfort, this is what we’ll turn to next.
Zoe Morrison’s Music and Freedom: Aubrey is a young, gifted pianist who has won a scholarship for the Royal College of Music, London. But enter a charming economics professor, and Aubrey is suddenly in a marriage whose ramifications are far more sinister than she ever dreamed. What do abusive relationships take away from artists, and do they ever recover their art?
Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music: A violinist and a pianist fall in love as young students who perform Beethoven’s Fifth Violin Sonata. They meet again after a decade when she is married and losing her hearing. An Equal Music is the story of their affair, of the way musician’s lives are magnified by their art, and of how deeply it is possible to love music.
Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad: Egan’s thirteen interconnected stories swept all the awards with good reason – her cast of complicated and self-destructive people who surround Benny Salazar, a record company executive, and his assistant, Sasha, are super compelling. As their paths diverge and re-combine over the course of decades and across continents, A Visit is a hat-tip to the unpredictable, the redemptive and the doomed.
Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo: Set during Bosnia’s brutal civil war, the novel follows a cellist who witnesses twenty-two people die outside his window when a shell exploded. Galloway’s book is a testament to what instrumental music can say in difficult times.
Rachel Joyce’s The Music Shop: From the writer who gave us The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry comes a second book about an indie music shop in 1980s London. Run by Frank who isn’t won over by CDs and prefers to hand-pick vinyls for his customers, the music shop sees any number of London’s lonely turn up at it’s doorstep looking for the right album. But one day, a young woman comes along who shows Frank that his intuitive knowledge of people’s needs may not extend to himself. Out on January 2nd, this is on our list to beat the back-to-work-blues.
This story was contributed by Urvashi Bahuguna, a writer based in New Delhi.
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