Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell

I’ve been on something of a reading binge this week.  Not working or traveling this week, so I’ve been spending a few hours every morning in bed reading, and going through a book a day, and for the most part loving the books I’ve been reading.  This book may have suffered as a result of having followed a really great book - the sort of book that I feel is written just for me.  So a bit of a letdown might have been inevitable.

I didn’t love this book, I’m not even sure if I liked it all that much.  For most of the story, I felt such a strong dislike for the main character, Anna.  Sometimes I felt sorry for her because all kinds of bad things were happening to her.  But still, I didn’t like her.

In the beginning, she’s writing a letter to her brother, and telling him about how much fun she’s having, and she keeps writing, after every two or three sentences.  “I’m such a silly girl!”  And for the rest of the book, that’s how I thought of her.  Such a silly girl! 

I know in the beginning, she was very young and maybe didn't understand the consequences of her behavior, but she never seemed to learn from her mistakes. 
Every man who set eyes on her loved her, including the emperor and the happily married Mozart.  But I never quite understood what was so remarkable about her.  She sang well.  But Mozart’s claiming his wife is stupid and Anna is brilliant.  What did she do that was so brilliant?  I can accept that she was talented, but she didn’t seem all that bright.

I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction recently, quite a few novels about famous artists and writers.  What I enjoy about these books is that they give life to these names, and tell the stories behind their work.  But I didn’t feel that with this book.  The characters all acted like performers in a play or an opera.  They never felt like real people to me.  Their behavior was too extreme and unnatural.   

And maybe part of the problem is unlike the artists and writers I usually read about, I don’t know a lot about Mozart.  I’d hoped this book would provide me with a better understanding of him, but he actually has a very small role in this story.  His relationship with Anna doesn't begin until almost 70% into the book.  I’d been under the impression this was a book about him and Anna, but mostly it was about Anna.

Also, even though I realize this is a novel, not non-fiction, I expect the main events to be accurate.  After finishing this book, I did a bit of reading about Anna Storace, and turns out most of the horrible things in the book didn’t even happen, at least not in the way they’re presented in the novel.  I understand it’s the author’s prerogative to take some liberties with history when writing a novel, but these were significant events that served as the basis for the character’s behavior.  All of this was created or rearranged by the author.  I felt a little cheated after learning this.

Having said all that, the book did for the most part hold my attention.  I found the descriptions about how the operas were put together and staged to be of interest.  I enjoyed reading about the locations in Vienna because I visited there a few years ago.  So when they were at certain locations, I could visualize the settings.

I think someone with more knowledge about music and Mozart might have enjoyed this more than I did.  Overall, the story was okay, but not really my thing.   

On a side note - I think the cover of this book is absolutely beautiful. 

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

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