“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music”
Walter Pater’s said that. It’s a famous quote of his, more famous than he is. When I first heard it, I checked him out, to find he was a nineteenth-century art critic and literary theorist who was born in the East End of London.
Some think that this quote is bunkum, and that art doesn’t move towards being music, but the idea resonates with me. Why else would Leonard Cohen have moved his writing sideways from prose and poetry to lyrics (oh! the money, maybe…). Music often enhances reading; I played Bob Marley all the time when I was consumed by A Brief History of Seven Killings
When I write, I’m always aware that certain scenes make a sort of music in my head. My characters, right from before I had anything published, always listened to music, often (this is possibly why these stories weren't published!) for long, closely-described scenes.
Then I read the critically acclaimed Teddy Wayne, and heard about how he created a ‘soundtrack’ to his most recent novel Loner, an unsettling story of obsessive desire. In his article, Wayne says…A great deal of pop songs are also about romantic obsession and loneliness (often in the same breath), and many ostensible love songs, when you examine the lyrics, are really avowals of stalker-like pursuit or thoughts of the object of desire; the British seem to have a particular fondness for this kind of ballad.
Wayne chose ten tracks that informed his portrayal of his protagonist. I’m writing book four of the Shaman Mysteries, Flood Gate, and I'm doing the same thing. My chosen tracks each represent a character, and I’m finding wonderful inspiration from listening to these songs. Follow the links to hear the music.
In order of appearance:
Larry Waish is a small-time poultry farmer who recently lost all his hens in one of the many floods that plague the Somerset Levels. What he’s discovered, is that his neighbour is to blame for his loss, and he’s hopping mad. Larry really loves Country and Western and plays The Eagles Heartache Tonight a lot, while he’s trying to cope with what happened between him and Jack Spicer at Harper’s Coombe
Jack Spicer, who’s real name is John, farms 200 acres of Somerset land, as his family has for generations. He's recently lost his daughter, and is helping bring up her daughter, baby Olivia. He knows he's been driven to do wrong, and t’s tormenting him. He's a bit of a classical buff, and listening to the slightly sinister tones of Shostakovich’s first piano concerto helped me build his character. By the end of chapter one, Jack is dead.
Sabbie Dare is a young shamanic practitioner and therapist who knows it is her destiny to be of service to people on the very edge of life. The victims of evil…the perpetrators of it. Sabbie’s mad about Pet Shop Boys and pagan music which can vary from folksy to rocking, and includes groups like Incubus Sucubus, Dahm the Bard and The Dolmen
Kelly King was 28 when she threw herself off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. She’d never really recovered from her life in The Willows, a local authority children’s home where Kelly, Sabbie and Debs Hitchings all lived when they were children. Kelly was depressed, directionless, and addicted to chocolate cookies. In her last days, she plugged into the music of her childhood, such as Pink’s There you go.
Debs Hitchings is a beautician who wanders from boyfriend to boyfriend and job to job. Debs turned up at the very end of In the Moors, (Book One) where she cuts Sabbie’s tortured hair, and has a small part in Unraveled Visions. In this book Debs, and the story of her past, takes centre stage. She’s known for cracking out Beyoncés Crazy in Love
at the top of her voice as her heels skittered across nighttime pavements.
Quentin Lachapelle is a thirty-five year old photographer with a nice studio, a pretty wife, and a flourishing career. He meets Sabbie and Debs at Kelly King's funeral, where he offers to take some glamour shots of Debs, although he finds Sabbie’s dark skin tones and angled face interesting. There is more to Quentin that meets the eye…or the lens of his cameras. Quentin is a Miles Davis fan, of course.
DI Reynard Buckely. Fans of the Shaman Mysteries will be delighted to hear that and Rey and Sabbie are still an item. In fact, things hot up between them considerably! Rey made his musical preferences clear in In the Moors, so there’s only one group I could play, and that’s the Stones.
Fenella Waish is Larry’s sister. Now in her forties, but still living in their childhood home, Fen seeks help from Sabbie for longterm Ornithophobia, her paralysing fear of birds which prevents her going anywhere near Larry’s poultry shed. Fenella loves her laptop, which is her window on the world. Scared to be Lonely might bring tears to her eyes, but she plays it again and again.
Tara Yorkman. Before she died, Kelly was fruitlessly searching for her friend Tara, who lived at The Willows from when she was little. Kelly, in need of someone to care for, always looked out for Tara, until she was a teenager. Then she disappeared. When Kelly’s spirit comes to Sabbie in a dream, she feels indebted to continue the quest for the missing girl. I listen to Taylor Swift and other noughties music to get in touch with Tara.
Victor Doyle is a successful Bristol business man, a builder of local housing. Now 55, he's loaded, charming and still handsome in a chiselled way, although he’s put on a bit of weight. In the community, he’s a well-loved philanthropist, but underneath, the man is pure, unadulterated evil. I think he’d be rivitted by Pretty Women from Sweeny Todd.
If you're writing a novel, or a series of short stories, try finding and playing the soundtrack that perfectly accompanies the story and the characters. It can make a tremendous difference to the outcome.
Young sailor Edmond Dantés is well-meaning, kind and really rather naive, wanting nothing more than to make enough money to take care of his elderly father and marry his beloved Mercedes. There are other, less well-meaning people in his life who want what he has and are prepared to frame Dantés for treason to get these things. While celebrating his engagement to Mercedes, Dantés is arrested, charged with aiding in a plot to restore the exiled Napoleon to the throne. The anonymous scheming may have come to nought, except a letter in Dantés' possession frames the father of the judge who hears his case, and said man decides that the best thing to do is burn the letter, and lock Dantés away, before the precious judge is implicated in the scandal. So thanks to a drunken, malicious prank and an unscrupulous judge, Dantés is locked up away in a dark dungeon for fourteen years, where he nearly goes mad, while his father dies alone and destitute and his Mercedes marries another.
Dantés probably would have lost his mind if not for the friendship with another prisoner, the Abbot Feria, who, when trying to dig an escape tunnel, instead ends up in Dantés' cell. The two strike up a friendship and Feria, a very learned man, teaches the fairly inexperienced sailor everything he knows. He listens patiently to Dantés' story of how he ended up being imprisoned, and explains exactly how he will have ended up being framed, turning Dantés' thoughts immediately to escape and revenge. Initially, the two are planning to escape the prison together. But the Abbott is old and sick and dies before they have a chance to get out. He tells Dantés of a great treasure, hidden away on the island of Monte Cristo. Once Dantés escapes, he goes there, and discovers riches beyond his wildest dreams. After fourteen years, with everyone who ever knew him believing him long dead, Dantés can start truly plotting his revenge.
Ten years after the escape, the mysterious and brooding Count of Monte Cristo appears in Paris and soon the lives of three prosperous and successful gentlemen start falling apart completely.
I'm convinced that it is more than twenty years since I first read this book, when I was still young and patient and felt that the longer the book, the better, frankly (this was back when I also happily read my mother's three volume edition of Les Misérables in about four days while stuck at my gran's in the west of Norway, a book I only got about a third of the way through once I tried re-reading it a few years back. To be fair, this was a time long before wifi and smart phones, the only thing to do when in the west of Norway was to read. What else was I going to do, hang out with my douchy cousins, or worse yet, my little brother?) When the Cannonball Book Club poll for Classics ended up picking the LONGEST book of all of the ones nominated (I want to point out that I picked The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - at a neat 350 pages), it wasn't like I had a choice but to read the book, and I certainly wasn't going to opt for some abridged version. That would be cheating. This is also why this book will now forever be known to me as the book that ate November.
I actually started it in mid-October, but it became really obvious that as long as I was allowing myself to read other books as well, I was just never going to get through the nearly thousand pages of 19th Century French adventure fiction. Hence the only books I finished in November except this, were the ones I listened to in audio. In the end, I completed the book on November 30th, the day before our book club discussion. The Norwegian translation I read was done in the 1950s, but was thankfully not too difficult to get into, once I got used to some of the more old-fashioned terms. The first third or so, until Dantés finally escapes prison and goes to the island to find the treasure, moves along at a fair clip and is quite exciting. The problem came when he returns after ten years, and Dumas spends a lot of time re-establishing all the characters (who obviously no longer go by the same names they did at the beginning of the book, that would be far too easy) and setting the stage for Dantés' truly masterful revenge scenario. Once the book really gets going on that, it's all pretty thrilling, right up until the end.
It's not for nothing that this is known as one of the great revenge stories of all time. It was also, obviously written in a time when books like this, sold in instalments, were the big network entertainments of their day. Over the course of eighteen months, people would only get sixty pages at a time. That's a long time to wait to see how Dantés deals out righteous vengeance on the guys who did him wrong and made themselves rich and successful thanks in part to his misfortune. I wish I could say that I read it, considering where the instalment breaks would have been and fully aware of how the entertainments of our day have changed (all points covered in our excellent book club discussion), but I totally didn't. I mainly just forced myself through it, in between correcting a LOT of essays and audio book listening, wanting to get through the early Paris sections, where I had to use Wikipedia to help me keep track of the names of all the various parties, their many family members and how exactly they were soap operaishly connected to one another through double dealing, scheming and adultery, so I could understand everything fully once the Count's plan really kicked into gear.
While I don't love it as much as I did when I was a teenager, it's still a great book and for a book written in the mid-19th Century, it has an interestingly varied portrayal of both male and female characters. I was especially excited to see that Dumas apparently thought nothing of having Eugénie Danglars, the daughter of one of the men who wronged Dantés, escape the whole sorry revenge plot by running off with her companion on what I'm assuming will be one heck of a lesbian bohemian adventure. Valentine Villefort, one of the other prominent ladies, is so good and kind and true she makes your teeth hurt, but a lot of the other ladies, not least Mercedes, Dantés' lost love, are very impressive in their own right, this is not just a book about dudes.
While I was initially despairing, as it felt like that my November was pretty much this and correction work, I'm very glad that the Book Club pick did end up being this book, so that I got a chance to finally re-read it. I'd kept telling myself I was going to, and then never getting round to it, because it's sooo long. I also have plans to watch the TV adaptation starring Richard Chamberlain (clearly the go-to actor for Dumas adaptations in the 1970s - as well as playing Dantés, he was Aramis in the Musketeers movies directed by Richard Lester and he also starred in the dual role in The Man with the Iron Mask), but as New Year's is rapidly approaching, I needed to get these reviews completed - no time to watch movies before I blog. I honestly don't know what the abridged versions of the novel leave out, it seemed to me that once you with hindsight can see what is being set up, even the parts of the novel that dragged while reading them were really quite important. I would therefore recommend that you allow yourself the time to read the full version if you try the book. It's worth the effort, I promise.
Judging a book by its cover: For years and years and years, I've been a member of what is called the Norwegian Book Club, which is more of a subscription service for books than an actual club where people get together to read the same book every month and discuss it. It should also be noted that because a) Norwegian hardback books are terribly expensive and b) I barely ever read Norwegian books, I automatically cancel the books of the month every single time. I get the e-mail, I go to the website, I cancel the books. Very occasionally, i use the accompanying website to buy presents for people. All of this is to explain that my two volume edition of Greven av Monte Christo (which is the Norwegian name for the book) is one that I got when I became a member many many years ago, and the cover is nothing very exciting. A silhouette of a man. The background on volume one is dark blue, the background on volume two is golden yellow. Apart from that, they are identical.
By: Beth Harbison
A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Beth Harbison delivers a poignant and witty story of a woman’s journey back to the past, IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME, coming in paperback June 14, 2016 (with a new 83/18 cupcakes adorable cover). Readers will go back to revisit their younger years, for a thought- provoking look at the people in our lives, choices, and questions, of what if.
“Sometimes – some rare times—when a soul has left in its own time, it leaves a love one wholly unprepared. Missing some of the most important lessons that were meant to be shared.”
“Can a soul find it’ way back to communicate in a less subtle way? To remind their loved one of those things they must know in order to find their own fate."
The night before Ramie Phillips; thirty-eighth birthday, she is on a boat (yacht) off the coast of Miami, Florida-- like something you would see on the cover of Conde’ Nast Traveleror other luxury magazine.
She did not grow up rich, In her youth she enjoyed a happy Charlie Brown landscaped middle class life in Potomac, Maryland, close to the DC border. She grew up loving math and her dad was a banker. When she was five her dad taught her about the stock market and how to track a portfolio. He taught her how to invest.
Thanks to her dad, she had a nice little nest egg for herself before she hit it big working with Whitestone, one of the top private equity investment firms in the country.
A daddy’s girl, her Dad died unexpectedly halfway through her college education. He smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, then a stroke. She thought he would be around forever and in her life. He was to be a grand dad. Her mom had always feared his upcoming death. Her mom had a hard time; however, Ramie came through for her investing her life insurance so she could live off the dividends.
Skip to the boating event, as the book opens, with champagne, cocktails, friends and a little too much to drink. Her friend just found out she is pregnant. Here she is, close to forty years old and now she is feeling sorry for herself. Her big birthday bash, had been overshadowed by toasts and congratulations for Lisa’s unexpected pregnancy.
What happened in her life from ages eighteen to thirty-eight?
She knows she is feeling like a baby. Beings selfish. Could she have known her previous partner in crime (herself) might feel a little weird about being ambushed by the news of her total acquiescence to domestication. She knew her friend would never be fun anymore. She tells her she is happy and begins to dwell on her situation. She has a nice life and career, but no personal life. She is not happy. She had been left behind. She had made mistakes.
Soon she dives off the boat and all she remembers is pain, and everything going black.
She wakes up in her childhood room. Dream or not, this was a moment in her life where she would get a second chance, with someone she had loved and lost. However, she is trying to talk about things in the future and her dad is of course still alive. Her mom thinks she is getting ready to go to school.
Now she finds herself back in time to the eve of her eighteenth birthday. Will she be able to change her decisions, and get what she wants from the past for her future?
Harbison always combines wit, emotion, and some tough life lessons. We all wish we could have a redo; and regret many things in our past, and questions of "what if" we had made a different decision, or choices back when,--- how would my life be different today. A journey of a thirty-eight year-old woman with her insight into the future and in her current role as age eighteen.
Thought-provoking! Makes you take a step back and appreciate those in your life. For Fans of In Twenty Years and The Year We Turned Forty as well as time traveling. I am normally not a fan of time travel; however this one was done really well.
For all you wondering why I am just now reviewing this book. I read it last year, and realized when reading an advanced reading copy of her upcoming new book, One Less Problem Without You, (great read), Coming July 26, 2016, was referring back to link to the review, and discovered I failed to write the review. (my bad)!
Quickly did a recap, since still on my Kindle, and even purchased the audiobook, narrated by Orlagh Cassidy for a fun time-travel trip. Guess my review, will be “timely for the paperback”, coming June.
I do not read as much chick-lit, as I did in my younger years; however, always enjoy Harbison’s books. She was initially the one to turn me on to the genre with her funny audiobooks. Always tons of fun, wit, and humor-and much more than fluff –there is depth, life, emotions, and so much more!
On a different note: Would like to take this opportunity to highlight St. Martin’s Press and compliment the team on all the beautiful covers! The Beth Harbison name is branded by her covers, and each and every one pulls you in to her character’s world. They are perfect. A cover can make, or break a book in my opinion, and all St. Martin’s Press’ covers are first-class- one of my favorite publishers.
Coming in Paperback
June 14, 2016
If I Could Turn Back Time
Told with Beth Harbison's wit and warmth, If I Could Turn Back Time is the fantasy of every woman who has ever thought, "If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I'd do things so differently...
Coming July 26, 2016
One Less Problem Without You
Be sure and move, One Less Problem Without You to the top of your list! (just finished it and "promise" to write my review before Tues. pub date). You will love the Cosmo chic cover, the three gals whose lives connect, a bad guy, teas, and "Diana’s Drinks" with 30-yummy cocktail recipes at the end of the book. Need I say more?
On a personal note: I think I was meant to go back and re-read this book. Makes you think of your parents. This week received the news my mom (some of you know she has battled cancer for 3 ½ yrs.) -now her body is shutting down, with less than a few months left to live. All of her many friends are saying their goodbyes, and I will be returning home, within the next couple of weeks, from South Florida to NC to spend some time with her and the family. This will be a difficult time- and not sure what lies ahead, as my dad depends on her for everything (they just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary), and his health is poor as well.
This is when we all want "more time", and regrets for all the time we have wasted. As she mentioned this week, even though she has known she has stage IV cancer for years, she kept thinking she was going to beat it, and she would have "more time." Now there is none. This book brought back some special memories and times with my mom, as a teen.