Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Bells

In spite of receiving several emails from members who were unable to attend yesterday, we still had a nice representation for a rousing discussion.  We were pretty much in agreement that while it wasn't exactly our favorite read, it's a book that we'll never forget.

Joann was frustrated because she found a couple of plausibility issues she couldn't get past, namely that the baby was an heir and given the fame that Moses achieved, there is no way that he would have been able to keep the boy hidden and anonymous.  She felt that the grandmother would have moved heaven and earth to get him back.  Kareen reminded us that Moses had locked her in a trunk and thrown away the key.  We don't know her outcome, but we do know her son was weak, without self motivation or any affection for the baby.

I struggled with some of the coincidences that were necessary to propel the story forward, like Moses finding Nicolai and Rumus after they left the monastery and Kathy tossed in, the finding of the wet nurse who turned out to create a home for them. And here is where we also agreed that after all the details up to this point, the end seemed hastily contrived. We also felt the first half of the book was much different than the second half.

The history of castratos was new to all of us, and the practice was driven by Italy and Italian opera.  They sang the role of female voices until women were finally allowed to sing them for themselves.   Harvell's description of the physiology of a eunuch was certainly an eye opener.  Denise reminded us that even their fingers were elongated.  The argument was that a live castrato was better off than a dead street urchin.  At least that's what Ulrich told himself and wanted to believe.

We talked at length about how Harvell crafted this tale to provide a retelling of the Myth of Orpheus.  I had read a lot of reviews online and found that the raves came from fans of opera, and there were many readers who found the book absolutely compelling - one said she gobbled up the first 100 pages.  In Harvell's retelling of Orpheus, he embroidered where necessary and often had us on the cusp of believable and unbelievable, some parts were almost to the point of fairy tale.

We all thought Harvell's beautifully descriptive language was what made the book readable, but the cruelty of the characters, particularly the doctor and music master, made for difficult reading at the same time.  The doctor was the most loathed character and Nicholai was our favorite.  Darlene reminded us that this was a hard time in history.  Indeed!