An extraordinary and intuitive writer, Blackwell mines the esoteric landscape of classical music but tempers it with the range of human passions that assail everyday lives and private dreams. Concert violist Suzanne has made peace with her choices, sharing a home with her husband, Ben; best friend, Petra; and Petra’s young daughter, Adele, who is deaf. A miscarriage shattered Suzanne’s dreams of motherhood, but an affair with conductor Alex Elling has brought her joy for the last four years, comfort to a wife whose composer husband is wrapped in the facts of music, not its soul.
Her secret affair feeds Suzanne’s romantic aspirations - until the night she hears a news report that Alex has died in a plane crash. Her silent grief turned inward, Suzanne navigates this exquisitely painful territory cautiously, left to build a life with those around her: “Her sin is not adultery, but self-absorption.” In a house of professional musicians, their common language both facilitates and hinders communication, the nuances of family more likely to find expression in music than words. But even music cannot heal the ache of Alex’s loss.
As complex as the music that unites Suzanne, Ben and Petra, Blackwell manipulates the delicate balance of relationships, the ennui of marriage, the daily struggle for survival, both financial and professional. Even this is threatened when Suzanne receives a phone call from Elling’s widow, Olivia, who informs the shocked Suzanne that she owes her for stealing Alex’s affections.
Olivia wants Suzanne to complete a concerto Alex has left unfinished - and to perform it. Coerced by guilt and the need to be near the lover she has lost, Suzanne slips into Olivia’s world, assessing the depth of the other woman’s hatred but unable to face the consequences of refusing. Like a snake, Olivia waits to strike, but Suzanne is committed to her task, clinging to the few remnants of Alex that remain accessible to her.
Music is the beating heart of this novel, a language that may leave some readers outside Blackwell’s charmed circle,
but the human dramas are familiar: love, betrayal, jealousy, ambition and creativity. Her writing as nuanced as the scores of great composers, the author relentlessly probes the layers of Suzanne’s world, her commitments, assumptions, loyalties and self-definition, forcing her protagonist to confront her deepest fears.
While buoyed and defined by music, as are Ben and Petra in their rarified household, none of them are safe from the pitfalls of infidelity or the demands of friendship. Exploring the nature of self-deception, Blackwell is quietly ruthless, Suzanne forced to examine her loyalties, motives and the ability to compromise from another perspective than her own. The loss of Alex is but the beginning of the journey for Suzanne, the contretemps with Olivia collateral damage, a grim reminder of the consequences of our choices.