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Chamber Music

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  60 Ratings  ·  15 Reviews
Caroline Maclaren, the ninety-year-old widow of a famous American composer, reaches back into her memories to tell the story of their life together. In setting the stage for her extraordinary tale, she recreates the aura of turn-of-the-century Frankfurt, Boston, and Saratoga Springs and of an age when private passions were hidden below the surfaces of private selves. She r ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published February 17th 1993 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published March 20th 1979)
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Nov 02, 2013 Mmars rated it it was amazing
Caroline McClaren has been asked to give permanent record to the life of the fictional famous composer, and her long-deceased husband, Robert McClaren. Instead she decides ".... to write this account because, long as my life has been, it has given me no opportunity before this to say what I wish to put down here. Perhaps the time was not right to do it before.... For the representation of truth, old age is a freeing agent. No one should write of her life until all the witnesses and acquaintances ...more
Nov 18, 2014 Melanie rated it it was amazing
This rich novel is cast as the memoir of 90-year-old Caroline Maclaren, being written in the late 1970s at the request of her late husband's charitable foundation. Robert Maclaren was a a composer who was dubbed "America's Orpheus" for his use of American themes in his classical music. The marriage was rich in the world's admiration for his genius, but bereft of emotional depth between husband and wife. As his demands for the silent, solitary conditions he needed for composing became more extrem ...more
Oct 26, 2014 Mystica rated it really liked it
Caroline is ninety and looks back on her life, especially her married life with a world famous music composer. Very matter of fact and written starkly the emotional feel of Caroline's feelings come through very strongly without the gushing sentiment.

Robert is a clever man but with many eccentricities that the naive Caroline as a young woman cannot see and does not understand till very much later. She adopts an attitude of servitude to him, giving in to his needs, his orders and most importantly
Carol -  Reading Writing and Riesling
My View:
Reflective, with a quiet voice.

This narrative is very touching, reflective and paints a sad picture of life, a limited life for women in the early 1900’s. Choices are narrow, navigated by social status, wealth and the husband’s career… and it was not the “done thing” to share to discuss feelings and personal insights, discretion was imperative – discretion which really equaled suffer in silence. “Secrets were surely no better kept than they are now, but they lived quietly, under the brea
Nov 20, 2014 Mandy rated it really liked it
Aged 90, at the end of a long and often turbulent life, Caroline Maclaren decides to tell her life story, the story of her marriage to a famous musician, her loneliness within that marriage, the artists’ colony that she founds, and her ultimate fulfilment in a new relationship. It’s a straightforward narrative told in a straightforward way, and none the worse for that. It’s a realistic portrayal of a life and a marriage, more so as it’s based on the real life American composer Edward MacDowell a ...more
Peter Eze
Aug 25, 2014 Peter Eze rated it liked it
I find it to be a subtle critic of a certain cultural conventionality that is pretentious as it inhibits our sensitivity. How about being married yet duty rather than love or companionship is the unions life wire? To love or not to love may not be the question, but to be in the arena of love(marriage) and not find love or feel loved, is terrible. Perhaps, we don't find love, it is love that has to find us in it own way. And love came, and it found the one who needed love and was willing to love. ...more
Jan 07, 2014 Marcy rated it it was amazing
This is a sad, melancholy, and beautiful story about a woman named named Caroline, who lived most of her life alone. Caroline's father died when she was young, leaving a bereft mother who spent all of her time in mourning for her lost love. When Caroline met a young man in Boston, an aspiring American composer and respected conductor of symphonies, she looked forward to a life of love...They moved to Germany to their mother's house, where Caroline learned that mother and son had shared the same ...more
Aug 03, 2013 Kerfe rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is an old fashioned book, and I mean that in the best way. Just a good story; no gimmicks either in style or narrative.

The simple unembellished prose suits the narrator well. Caroline Newby is a late 19th Century middle class Boston girl, raised with the morality and expectations of repressed New England Puritanism. She marries a pianist and composer who, after years of study in Europe, finds success back home in the United States. It is a loveless union, lonely and confusing to Caroline.

Jun 10, 2012 Kate rated it it was ok
My sister and I like to sit together to knit and watch medical shows or detective shows. When we guess the malady or the "perp," we gleefully congratulate each other.
So one reason for my liking this book is that I very early made a medical diagnosis which proved to be correct. Congratulations, Dr. Styrsky!

Another reason to like it is that this edition has a back-cover blurb by Barbara Pym, an author by now long deceased, whose work I love.

And in addition to these personal sidelights, the book it
Oct 29, 2013 Melee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. I am rounding up for the last third of the book that contained a sweet love story between two women that had me audibly "awww-ing". That was the whole reason I read this book, really. So naturally I thought too much of the story was devoted to Caroline's life with her unhappy (and rather unlovable) gay husband. I did enjoy Doris Grumbach's writing, though! I shall just sit back and imagine how great a book solely about Caroline and Anna could've been...
Sep 03, 2008 Alison rated it really liked it
I bought this book at the farmers market in Blue Hill, Maine. The man who sold it to me said he'd give me triple my money back if I didn't adore it - not like it, adore it... he made this clear. This made me instantly intrigued... and, so, okay, there was a bit of hype up front, but I have to say that he's not going to be sending any money all the way to Oakland anytime soon. I thought it was just lovely, with particularly inspired use of the parenthetical...
Sep 25, 2009 Kathy rated it really liked it
I just finished this lovely book. The wonder of this book is that the narrator, a 90 year old woman, tells her story with great clarity and restraint, yet the effect of reading it was visceral and powerful. Chamber Music is beautifully written. Highly recommended.
Nov 16, 2008 Melinda rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Melinda by: no one
Shelves: fiction
Even though this was a short book, it took me some time to read it. Just an okay book for me. The story of an unhappy marriage has been told, and told better, in other novels. I didn't find the writing to be anything special. I probably wouldn't recommend it.
Lynn Wilson
Apr 27, 2010 Lynn Wilson rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book. It gave me a sense of life lived at the turn of the century. It's a quiet, introspective novel written as memoir.
Mark Spano
Aug 14, 2012 Mark Spano rated it it was amazing
This is her best.
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Doris Grumbach is an American novelist, biographer, literary critic, and essayist. She taught at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, and was literary editor of the The New Republic for several years. Since 1985, she has had a bookstore, Wayward Books, in Sargentville, Maine, that she operates with her partner, Sybil Pike.
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