Audra (Unabridged Chick)'s Reviews > Mozart's Last Aria

Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees
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Even though this book has elements that I just eat up -- a take-charge heroine, unique foreign setting, weird conspiracy involving a secret society, dramatic artists, and lots of intrigue -- I actually found this to be an unremarkable novel. The book isn't bad -- it's just rather pedestrian. At 295 pages, it ought to be a fast read but weirdly, the story drags despite the non-stop action.

The novel is written in the first person which is normally a voice I rather like -- I enjoy 'being' the heroine -- but in this case, I felt as if it were the 'easy' choice. Lots of telling the reader how the heroine felt rather than demonstrating, and that always bores me. (For example, there are two pages of the heroine looking at herself in the mirror near the start of the novel so we would learn of her appearance -- which is a tried and true trick of first person narrators in YA novels. I don't care how my heroine looks; I care about how she acts.)

It's obvious when reading the Author's Note and the mini-essay about the novel that Rees admires Mozart immensely and was greatly inspired by Vienna. That comes across in this novel but not much else. For a heroine who should be so interesting -- a child prodigy with great musical talents herself, married to a provincial widower and estranged from her brother in his last years -- Nannerl was remarkably flat.

The setting of the novel is a conspiracy around Mozart's sudden death, which is a historical event I've been fascinated with since I was a kid. As such, Mozart's music is a huge part of the novel, and in particular his opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute).

It's tricky when a novel features an artistic medium that readers might not be familiar with -- ballet or modern art or classical music -- and it takes real skill to make the experience of that medium, however foreign, something that readers can relate with and appreciate (Evan Fallenberg's When We Danced on Water made the passion of ballet very real for me, for example). Unfortunately, I don't think Rees quite conveyed why Mozart was such a genius or why his music was so moving (other than extolling us to find his music and listen along). I've had the good fortune of seeing Die Zauberflöte twice in the last handful of years with opera nuts who pointed out much of the Masonic influence that Rees mentions in this novel, and as a result, I felt comfortable with that aspect of the story: the characters, the visual clues, the possible political references. But I think those who aren't as familiar with the opera might be lost, especially since Rees continually tells us how greatly Mozart's music impacts everyone but doesn't translate that into an experience the reader can enjoy, too.

The book is loaded with extras: a map of Vienna, cast of characters, a list of music referenced in each chapter, an essay from the author on the inspiration for the story (and the hint that he wrote the novel emulating the form and feel of one of Mozart's darker piano sonatas), and suggested additional reading. Certainly, this novel inspired in me an interest to learn more about Mozart's sister but I can't say I understand more about Mozart or even 18th century Vienna. I think if you go into this with YouTube queued up and the expectation that you're getting a fast historical thriller, the experience will be diverting, a splashy read for the holidays.
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message 1: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Is this any good? He just had an article in Salon about Ariel Sharon that was the most repellent fatphobic thing I've ever seen (including that one ep of The Inside with the 400-lb cannibal).


Audra (Unabridged Chick) I haven't started it yet but now you've got me totally freaking! EW -- that's the last thing I need in my life!


message 3: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Audra (Unabridged Chick) wrote: "I haven't started it yet but now you've got me totally freaking! EW -- that's the last thing I need in my life!"

I don't know anything about the book, but the article was seriously bad enough it made me want to hate everything else he's ever written: http://www.salon.com/2011/10/22/ariel...

SAMPLE: I continued to write about Sharon during the intifada, when he sent Israeli forces into every Palestinian town and village to snuff out the suicide bombers. On the way, I happened across still more food lore about him. He had a penchant for barbecued turkey testicles, which I have since discovered to be a little gummy, much like spine or brain, and to have a slight savor of scallops. His most favored companions would always report their conversations to me as having taken place over a meal at the farm. One told me that, as he called the intifada “a struggle over our existence,” Sharon filled his face with chicken salad.


Audra (Unabridged Chick) E.W.

Also, I note in the blurb -- not his fault, I suppose, but it makes me moody -- that the other historical fiction authors he's compared to are all male. Apparently guys only write legit hist fic -- otherwise, it's hist rom that only the ladies like.

Rawr.


message 5: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Audra (Unabridged Chick) wrote: "the other historical fiction authors he's compared to are all male. Apparently guys only write legit hist fic -- otherwise, it's hist rom that only the ladies like."

Why sure, GWTW has GURL COOTIES on it, but Colm Toibin on Henry James, now that's real writing!


message 6: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Also what the _shit_ is with the little flipping pro reviews at the side? How do I turn the OFF? God, I hate pro reviews.

The Da Vinci Code, but this time with Masons and musical manuscripts.

That....is not really a recommendation for some of us, NPR.


Audra (Unabridged Chick) omg, omg, omg -- did you read his bio???????

I’m an award-winning British crime novelist. Major authors have compared my writing with the work of Graham Greene, John Le Carre, Georges Simenon and Henning Mankell. The French magazine L’Express called me “the Dashiell Hammett of Palestine.”

WHERE: I live in Jerusalem. I came here in 1996. For love. Then we divorced. But the place took hold. Not for the violence and the excitement that sometimes surrounds it, but because I saw people in extreme situations. Through the emotions they experienced, I came to understand myself.

BEFORE THE WRITING: There was never really a time before I wrote. I’ve been at it since I was seven (a poem about a tree, on the classroom wall with a gold star beside it.) But I arrived in the Middle East as a journalist with only a couple of published short stories to my name. First I wrote for The Scotsman, then Newsweek, and from 2000 until 2006 as Time Magazine’s Jerusalem bureau chief. I won some awards for covering the intifada. Yasser Arafat once tried to have me arrested, but I eluded him and decided to focus on fiction. I’d learned so much about the Palestinians – and about life – that didn’t fit into the limited world of journalism. So I wrote my Palestinian crime novels.

BEFORE JERUSALEM: I was born in Newport, Wales, in 1967. That’s my mother’s hometown; my father’s from Maesteg in the Llynfi valley. We moved around, to Cardiff and Croydon, then I studied English at Wadham College, Oxford University with Terry Eagleton as my tutor. Contemporaries may remember me as the fellow with bleached blonde hair at the bar of the King’s Arms in the company of the Irish porters from All Souls College. I did an MA at the University of Maryland and lived in New York for five years before I hit the Middle East.

WHERE THE BOOKS CAME FROM: I wrote a nonfiction account of Israeli and Palestinian society called Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East in 2004 (Free Press). I’m proud of it, because it really gets to the heart of the conflict here – it isn’t one of those notebook-dump foreign correspondent books.

I was looking for my next project and came up with the idea for Omar Yussef, my Palestinian sleuth, while chatting with my wife in our favorite hotel, the Ponte Sisto in the Campo de’Fiori in Rome. I realized I had become friends with many colorful Palestinians who’d given me insights into the dark side of their society. Like the former Mister Palestine (he dead-lifts 900 pounds), a one-time bodyguard to Yasser Arafat (skilled in torture), and a delightful fellow who was a hitman for Arafat during the 1980s. To tell the true-life stories I’d amassed over a decade, I decided to channel the reporting into a crime series. After all, Palestine’s reality is no romance novel.



Audra (Unabridged Chick) THE DASHIELL HAMMETT OF PALESTINE?!


message 9: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Audra (Unabridged Chick) wrote: "Major authors have compared my writing with the work of Graham Greene, John Le Carre, Georges Simenon and Henning Mankell.

AND HE'S MODEST, TOO.

The French magazine L’Express called me “the Dashiell Hammett of Palestine.”

....what

I saw people in extreme situations. Through the emotions they experienced, I came to understand myself.

Wellllll it's nice all the other (non-white) people could contribute to your white male psyche....

Contemporaries may remember me as the fellow with bleached blonde hair at the bar of the King’s Arms in the company of the Irish porters from All Souls College

....uh-hunh.

it isn’t one of those notebook-dump foreign correspondent books.

Is this guy for real?

chatting with my wife in our favorite hotel, the Ponte Sisto in the Campo de’Fiori in Rome.

I hate these "while on vacation in Florence I got the idea for my NEXT book" things. Also, does his wife get credit? I guess she must get some of his royalties....

I realized I had become friends with many colorful Palestinians who’d given me insights into the dark side of their society.

As opposed to the dull, everyday Palestinians just trying to go about their dull, everyday lives. Nobody needs to hear about THEM.

Like the former Mister Palestine (he dead-lifts 900 pounds), a one-time bodyguard to Yasser Arafat (skilled in torture), and a delightful fellow who was a hitman for Arafat during the 1980s

Did you notice how all the colourful people worth writing about are men? Violent men?

After all, Palestine’s reality is no romance novel. "

Because GURLS are ICKY!


message 10: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Also I really, truly don't like his book's page. It's set up with a constantly refreshing box of blurbs from pro reviews, a link to the book trailer (GOD book trailers SUCK), a boxed link to his website....the space devoted to advertising takes up more space on the page than the description of the book! Ugh. I thought GoodReads was supposed to be about the reader's reviews (which we provide for free....).


Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews) I LOVE this cover... but these comments have me apprehensive. The author seems like a pretentious toolbag.


Audra (Unabridged Chick) Jessie: I know -- it's nice and dramatic looking but I too am apprehensive abt Mr Man and the story. We'll see!


message 13: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Jessie (.bibliophile. .anonymous.) wrote: "I LOVE this cover... but these comments have me apprehensive. The author seems like a pretentious toolbag."

I KNOW.


Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews) I hope his douchiness stays out of the story, Audra. Can't wait for the review.


Audra (Unabridged Chick) Someday...if the ARC ever arrives! I'm supposed to review it tomorrow but...it's not happening unless it arrives tonight and I can't put it down!


Audra (Unabridged Chick) Book finally arrived and I read it in what was the longest four hours ever. I kept checking the page to see where I was because I thought, surely, I must be nearly done! (And it's a 295-page book!) I just posted my full review -- douchiness was relatively absent, but I found this just a middling mystery, really.


message 17: by Moira (last edited Nov 15, 2011 09:09AM) (new)

Moira Russell OMG! //goes to read

ETA

(For example, there are two pages of the heroine looking at herself in the mirror near the start of the novel so we would learn of her appearance -- which is a tried and true trick of first person narrators in YA novels. I don't care how my heroine looks; I care about how she acts.)

I adore you.

(US novels seem absolutely obsessed with how people look and what they wear. In nearly every novel I've read recently, the action GRINDS TO A HALT if someone new enters for pedestrian description unrelated to the action or theme or anything: "She was a tall blonde with bright red lipstick, wearing a blue cashmere dress with navy pumps and matching stockings." I mean....why?)


Audra (Unabridged Chick) PLUS PLUS the characters spend all their time remarking at how she looks JUST like her brother, too, could be him etc. so that would have been enough, but no, we had to have obligatory gaze-at-self-in-mirror -- made all the more weird since the story is actually Nannerl's diary...meaning she recorded in her diary studying herself?? So v weird.

When I was younger, I totally dug the very specific details, like in the Redwall books -- I loved the details about the feasts. But for some reason, detailed descriptions about the way characters look feels very amateurish to me, like the author has over-identified with the character to the point that if we the reader don't see them (love them, admire them) like they do, then we just don't 'get' it or something. It also, frankly, feels like a page filler!


message 19: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Audra (Unabridged Chick) wrote: "But for some reason, detailed descriptions about the way characters look feels very amateurish to me, like the author has over-identified with the character to the point that if we the reader don't see them (love them, admire them) like they do, then we just don't 'get' it or something. It also, frankly, feels like a page filler! "

I love details, too! But mostly when they're about something I don't already know -- and most novel descriptions of people just feel so bland and useless. If a description's not doing some kind of work, why is it there? I am a firm believer in that "every sentence must be doing two or three jobs" idea.


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