A series of ghost stories tied together by the Five Quarters, a group of middleaged Englishmen who get together quarterly for Adnams beer, scotch, comA series of ghost stories tied together by the Five Quarters, a group of middleaged Englishmen who get together quarterly for Adnams beer, scotch, companionship, and story telling. The stories are well written, with images that I can't get out of my head, like the Pier in The Penny Drops - I may never be able to look at a pier the same way again. ...more
A remarkable book all the way around. This is the story of Lilliet Berne, a legendary opera singer in Paris during the Second Empire. She has createdA remarkable book all the way around. This is the story of Lilliet Berne, a legendary opera singer in Paris during the Second Empire. She has created and recreated herself many times during her lifetime, from American orphan, to Hippodrome rider and acrobat, to courtesan, to dresser to an Empress, to a star of the opera and her culture. When she is offered the opportunity to create a new role she is thrilled, especially as it is written by a protégé of Verdi, until she realizes that the libretto tells the secret story of her own life. There are only four people who could have written it, she believes, and "one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her, and one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all".
As Lilliet tries to discover the source of her story, she describes a life spent among many of the great figures of the Second Empire, including the Empress Eugenie, the Verdi's, Pauline Viardot, and Ivan Turgenev, among others. The book is filled with descriptions of Second Empire life and culture, and of course, operas in particular, and the magic that is opera more generally. Here's an example...
"This however, was my first experience of the ridiculous and beloved thief that is opera -- the singer who sneaks into the palace of your heart and somehow enters the stage singing aloud the secret hope or love or grief you hoped would always stay secret, disguised as melodrama; and you are so happy you have lived to see it done. The singer singing to you with the full force of what you feel is transfigured and this transfigures you; you feel as if it were you there in the opera, the opera your story, the story of your life. And so I stared in amazement from the box as Patti sang what was in my heart, what I hoped was my secret future, and in her slow, soaring, searching aria full of surpassing sweetness I found my first real consolation since leaving Compiegne. By the time she began her defiant cabaletta -- My fate will not be complete if he is not by my side! If I do not live for him, for him I will die -- her final note sustained like a sword held to the sky, the crowd rose to its feet cheering, the flowers raining down on the stage, and I, I caught myself. I had already stood, clutching the edge of the box. "
The writing is elegant, multilayered, and rich. There is also, perhaps, too much of it, as the novel comes in at 561 pages. In many ways it is like an opera, over the top in some places, filled with unbelievable coincidence and drama, but worth the time it takes to read, as opera is worth the time it takes to experience. ...more
An elegant set of stories of the supernatural. Well written and intelligent. She has been largely forgotten, and the only other work of hers that I haAn elegant set of stories of the supernatural. Well written and intelligent. She has been largely forgotten, and the only other work of hers that I had read was the Arkham House collection, Kecksies.
This edition includes a very thoughtful and solid introduction to her work by Jessica Amanda Salmondson, and is part of the series she edited for Ash-Tree Press called the Grim Maids. A series that focused on the work of mostly forgotten women who wrote supernatural fiction. ...more