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The Vexations

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  126 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A "marvelous" (Wall Street Journal), "enthralling" (New York Times Book Review) debut novel about love, family, genius, and the madness of art, circling the life of eccentric composer Erik Satie and La Belle Époque Paris
Erik Satie begins life with every possible advantage. But after the dual blows of his mother's early death and his father's breakdown upend his childhood
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published July 30th 2019 by Little, Brown and Company
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  126 ratings  ·  45 reviews

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Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
On February 18, 2018, we attended the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's French Festival to hear Claude Debussy's orchestration of Erik Satie's Gymnopédies Nos.1 & 3 along with music by Dukas, Saint-Saens, and Offenbach.

I had not realized previously how much I loved French music! I wanted to attend every one of the concerts. The two Gymnopedies were the only music by Satie performed during the festival--only because Debussy had orchestrated them. The music Satie wrote before he was twenty-two-year
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-best
I'm totally under this book's spell. The Vexations is as funny as it is beautiful. It's about making art in the big city, but it's also about the absurdity of playing the role of a Great Artist. It's about family and how deep those ties can cut, but it's also about the leeway we give our most ridiculous loved ones. It's about Belle Epoque Paris, with all of its rowdy salons and ink-stained studios, but it's also about how much it sucks to be full of ideas while nursing empty stomachs and pockets ...more
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Many years ago I happened upon Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie #1. This piece of music instantly awakened a host of emotions - awe, wonder, longing and melancholy. When I saw this fictionalized story of his life I was thrilled. The Vexations begins with the grieving Satie family arriving, from Paris, on the doorstep of Mr. Satie’s mother. In a flash the widower departs leaving Erik, his sister and baby brother in the dubious care of their grandmother. Each child must then endure forced separation from o ...more
Jul 16, 2019 rated it did not like it
I read 115 pages of this novel and still didn't care about any of the characters. I would return to the book each night before bed having forgotten what it was about. I picked up another book on my list, read 15 pages and was hooked. So....the writing maybe? The subject matter? The pace? Yes, all of those things makes The Vexations too vexing to keep reading. I've said it before and I'll say it again: life is too short for bad books.
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Thanks to a Goodreads giveaway, I enjoyed an advance copy of THE VEXATIONS.

French composer and pianist Erik Satie lived from 1866 to 1925 and was part of a memorable era of artistic change in Paris. Friends and acquaintances such as Claude Debussy, Picasso, Cocteau, Man Ray, and his one love, Suzanne Veladon endured his unpredictable and often fiery temperament while recognizing his exceptional talents. Descriptions of Satie include terms such as eccentric, dysfunctional, maverick, avant-guarde
Gayle Slagle
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks is a fascinating novel that revolves around the life of Eric Satie, a French composer; to be honest, I had never heard of Satie even though I consider myself a lover of music. However, after reading this debut novel I can say that i have been given great insight into this remarkable artist. The novel entwines the lives of Satie's brother Conrad and of his sister Louise; it is sometimes humorous and sometimes heartbreaking, but always honest. The book is well-wri ...more
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Disclaimer: I went to college with Caitlin, so am predisposed to like this and praise it. That said, this is well worth the read for anyone interested in Paris during the late 1880s and into the 1910s, artistic culture in Montmarte, classical music, and the idea of genius and what toll that takes on not only the so-called genius, but also those in that person’s life. Horrocks traces the life of composer Eric Satie from childhood to death, and along the way also traces the lives of his sister (th ...more
Sep 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is gorgeously written, the backdrop of fin-de-siècle Paris absolutely as fascinating as you would imagine. But the title's allusion both to one of Satie's famous pieces and to feelings of frustration, irritation, and worry bespeaks the sense of thwartedness that proves contrapuntal to the "great man" narrative that biographies of a genius typically espouse. Though Satie is one of the narrators in this novel, he is by no means the featured narrator. Each of the other narrators are disqu ...more
Keith Taylor
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very hard for me to believe that everyone can't love this as much as I do! Maybe it's because I'm such a francophile, or because I like stories about superbly strange artists. But I did love this book. Below is the written text of a short review I did on Michigan radio:

The Vexations
Caitlin Horrocks
Little Brown and Company

Reviewed by Keith Taylor

Most of us have heard of Erik Satie. Many of us have a vague impression of his music – moody, movie music that plays behind sad or sometimes slowly passi
Cherise Wolas
I knew the name Erik Satie, but nothing else about him and if I have heard his music, then it was without having any idea, and so I found this a very interesting historical fiction novel. France, in the Belle Epoque, comes alive, a very dirty place filled with the haves and the have-nots, and those striving to be composers, poets, artists, and the like. The character I found most fascinating wasn't Satie actually - and indeed why he was as he was, whatever mental issues he may have had which cau ...more
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Book 4 finished for July 24in48.

This is a very intimate novel about the life of Erik Satie and his sister, brother, and two friends who new him well. The writing is beautiful, particularly in those chapters from Satie’s perspective talking about “touch” or music, and Horrocks described the Montmartre Satie inhabited so well. The chapters from his sister Louise’s perspective are interesting; they are the only ones told in 1st person - I think I figured out why the author made that choice but I d
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Full blown trip to turn of the century France, uncovering the life of Erik Satie. Historical fiction at it's finest, following a true path with the author's voice connecting the dots. Many piano students will remember having to play something by Satie back in the day. The title 'Vexations' is a loop piece which you play over and over in succession. An odd genius of sorts, who's at odds with being touched and never threw anything away. Friends with Claude DeBussy.
Aug 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I had no idea what this book was about when I checked it out, just liked the cover, shortly in I started googling, ruining the story for me since I did so much research! It's amazing to me all that rests at our fingertips, information, photos, videos, sound, which of course enhances ones reading experience. Was an all a new subject for me with some beautifully written lines.
Aug 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved it! Really interesting story, very well written. A wonderful piece of historical fiction!
Sep 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Silly people, foolish choices.
Maureen Henderson
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the first I've read of Caitlin Horrocks' work, but after The Vexations I will be on the lookout for all she writes. This is historical fiction done very well. Horrocks never writes a lazy sentence, for one thing, so I was constantly going back to read over the subtlety of a perfect metaphor, the physical description of a new character, a bit of Parisian setting.

But the story itself is also deeply engaging, thanks to the author's ability to bring French composer Erik Satie and his siblin
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Strong historical romance centered around the eccentric composer Erik Satie and his family. Beautiful characterization and period detail. A few quibbles, like the inconsistent and unhistoric use of first names between adult men, and the need to invent a fictional character ("Philippe") when the real Contamine de Latour who he was based on was available. Still, an impressive novel.
Julie Christine
A gorgeously-penned novel that is nominally about real-life composer Erik Satie, but at its core is the story of the death of a possibility. Not of Erik Satie's, whom Caitlin Horrocks shows to be an occasionally inspired, oft-petulant and paranoid genius, but of his sister Louise's, whose gender made her own career as a gifted musician a risible intention.

Satie's rise to fame as a composer in fin-de-siècle Paris occurred within an inner circle of family and fellow artists, and his ambitions rev
Carrie Hayes
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful book. The Vexations is a moving, delicately wrought meditation on friendship, family, genius and longing. Erik Satie (composer of the Gymnopedies), is as awkward as he is gifted and can always be relied upon to say the wrong thing. With a deft and subtle hand, Ms. Horrocks guides us, as Erik carelessly insults those around him, only to be astonished when he realizes that that his actions are perceived as hurtful.

When an eminently successful, albeit long suffering colleague as
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I confess I’m sufficiently musically ignorant to have initially believed that the “vexations” referred to in the title were the three children—Eric, Louise, and Conrad—that Alfred does not know quite what to do with after his wife’s death.

He takes them to his mother’s house and leaves them there. Eric is sent to boarding school, Louise to a great-aunt and uncle’s, and baby Conrad is reunited with Alfred after he remarries. These inauspicious beginnings foreshadow the challenges both Eric and Lo
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a really enjoyable book, a historical reconstruction of the life of composer Erik Satie from the POV of multiple people, including Satie himself but also his sister, some friends, etc. So it's one of those books with multiple narrators by chapter; narrators will wonder about Erik, but also live their own lives-- the standout here is, I think, his sister Louise, who is a classically appealing messy narrator, one of those who tells us a little too much about their emotional life for us to ...more
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
A sweeping novel spanning years and exploring not only the life of eccentric composer Erik Satie, but also the lives of those closest to him and the effect he has on them. I enjoyed this novel and if anything, would have loved to hear even more from Louise, Satie’s sister. I also really liked Suzanne’s sections. So maybe I am partial to the female voices in the novel. In addition, I appreciated how historical details were weaved in as I didn’t previously know much about this era.

Caitlin was my w
Apr 28, 2019 rated it liked it
I received a free copy of "The Vexations" by Caitlin Horrocks through the "Good Reads First Reads Giveaway.

This is a talented author, dealing with difficult subjects. She writes about a flawed family, but also includes interesting and unusual characters. The eccentric composer Erik Satie and his unusual family are well documented. Some readers may want more cohesion with the underlying story, while this novel is more a collection of short stories dealing with individuals in this unique family.
Winthrop Smith
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If only they were, but they are, heard here.

My bias, because I have been writing about the portraits of an artist whom I never met, so spend my days- have spent years- imagining 'duets' between the artist and his sitters, inhabiting Erik Satie, his brother, his sister, his family members, relatives through marriage, friends, musicians, acolytes, drinkers: this I understand, and this is what happens here beautifully, with the stress on fully. The reader doesn't hesitate to put his or her trust in
Sep 22, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

A novel that explores the life and family of composer Erik Satie.

Compelling & well written but not very cohesive.

Can’t say I knew much about the composer before reading the book. The novel is written beautifully. The time period and environment are described vividly and in great detail - I was able to transport myself to Paris easily reading this book. That being said, some sections are significantly more compelling than others, leading certain parts of the book to drag considerabl
Carolyn Thomas
Sep 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
Well. What to say?
I was halfway through the book and realized I didn’t care about any of the characters or what happens to them (except Louise Satie) and that I was going to have a hard time making it to the end.
However, I DID make it to the end and am sorry that I did not enjoy it more. The writing is fine but the subject matter - Erik Satie becoming increasingly alienated and alienating- is definitely not “captivating and ceaselessly entertaining”.
Garrett Dennert
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The extent of my Erik Satie knowledge started and stopped with Gymnopédies but it’s clear now why the life, family, and times of Satie was so alluring to a master like Caitlin Horrocks. The ups and downs of the Satie siblings are grand, spanning decades across different continents, but what fuels the novel is Horrocks’ quiet pulling and twisting of the “greatness” thread. As in: What is greatness? Who defines it? What sacrifices must be made to have it—by an individual? By a brother? A sister?

Tim Penning
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
The author is a faculty colleague of mine. I was excited to read a review of the book in the New York Times, but even more excited to read the debut novel of someone I know. And I’m not just saying this—it is an outstanding novel. I loved the concept of a novel based on a real person, in this case the composer Eric Satie. But mostly it’s just really well written, deeply moving. I forgot I knew the author and lived inside the characters heads, and in France, and Argentina.
Maureen Crothall
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Where to begin! I love classical music, I love Satie's work, I loved this book. Getting it alone was an adventure, I could only find it available in Canada, at this time, as an Audio, so I got my daughter to drive me over the border into the States so I could buy the hardback book. Over the holiday weekend I sat outside under the canopy, with Satie playing gently on Spotify, reading this book. As bizarre, sad, and funny it was, I truly enjoyed it.
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I could almost hear Erik Satie's melancholy Gymnopédie playing throughout the sadness embedded in the world of the composer, particularly in the chapters from the point of view of his sister, sidelined mostly because of her gender. Louise's voice is the most powerful, complicated, plaintive, but Erik's life in bohemian Montmartre which included Claude Debussy, Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, Suzanne Valadan, and others was fascinating.
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Caitlin Horrocks is author of the novel The Vexations, forthcoming July 2019 from Little, Brown. Her story collection This Is Not Your City was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her stories and essays appear in The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, The Pushcart Prize, The Paris Review ...more
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