Thursday, 11 November 2010

Book Review: The Songwriter by Beatrice Colin.


Product details:
Publisher: John Murray.
Paperback, 384 pages.
Release date: October 28th 2010.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: Adult.
Source: Received from publisher for review.


 New York, 1916. Monroe Simonov, a song-plugger from Brooklyn, is in love with a Ziegfeld Follies dancer who has left him for California. Inez Kennedy, a fashion model in a department store, has just one season remaining to find a wealthy husband before she must return to the Midwest. Anna Denisova, a glamorous political exile, gives lectures and writes letters while she waits for the Russian people to overthrow their Tsar. Although the world is changing faster than they could ever have imagined, Monroe, Inez and Anna discover that they are still subject to the tyranny of the heart. In this richly atmospheric and deftly plotted novel, their paths cross and re-cross leaving a trail of passion, infidelity and betrayal, before hurtling towards an explosive climax.

With it’s epic tale of cinema and cabaret against the backdrop of rising National Socialism, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite soon made it on to the list of my all time favourite reads, and so, I was very excited when I heard that author Beatrice Colin had a new book releasing.  In The Songwriter, Colin sets her story in  the streets of  a rapidly changing New York City in 1916 and continues the tale over four years.  For me the time frame immediately conjured up images of political unrest, World War I, the Red Scare and the emergence of Jazz, all of which are covered here.  Through  her vivid descriptions and well-drawn characters, Colin lets us experience a slice of life during this turbulent time.

The story here follows three different characters, from three very different backgrounds, who we get to know gradually over time.  There is Monroe Simonov, a song plugger of Russian descent who has zero interest in war and just wants to win the heart of the girl he loves.  Inez Kennedy, a fashion model, who, although alluring, lacks some depth as a character for much of the book.  Then there is Anna Denisova, a beautiful Russian political exile, who adds a dark edge to the book and highlights the sense of paranoia that existed in society towards immigrants at the time.  At the beginning of the book, these characters have no real connection to each other, and at this point I found the book a little difficult to get into, even though I enjoyed the writing style. This one will surprise you, though. Colin’s plotlines are multi-layered and she will catch you off guard with some surprising plot twists. I love how Colin brought this story together, weaving even the most tenuous of plot links together beautifully.

There is a sense of unrest, political and otherwise, and a real hint of impending doom throughout the book. On the way Colin introduces some very unsavoury characters, each with their own story to tell. One of Colin’s strong points is her characterisation, and here all characters both primary and secondary and well-written, distinctive and entirely memorable.  There is a romantic plotline throughout the book, and although it follows quite a heart-wrenching storyline, I felt it lacked the intensity of a really good love story. While I rooted that the characters would ultimately be together, I found that I wasn’t entirely sympathetic towards their predicament at times. 

The real beauty of this book is it’s historical aspect and the depth of research on Colin‘s part. I found the inclusion of Russian history, the Revolution and the rise to power of the Bolsheviks interesting as it is a period I have studied.  While  I very much enjoyed this book overall, I found the ending rather too ambiguous for my liking. Oftentimes,  I need closure at the end of the book, and so, while in one respect, I  found the ending of this one quite fitting, I was definitely left wanting to know what happened next. The Songwriter is pretty heavy on history and politics, and is a great read for fans of historical fiction, although I would suggest that you have a little background knowledge of the time period and it’s history before reading this one.
 

8 comments :

  1. I haven't heard of this book but it looks REALLY good! Thanks for the great review!

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  2. How interesting and an unusual time period. It makes me think of Ragtime and Emma Goldman, even though the socialist thing is really the only thing it has in common with Songwriter. Great cover too.

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  3. Thanks a lot for the review! I really want to read it now.

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  4. This sounds really good and I love that cover. Great review :)

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  5. This looks great- I'm adding it to my TBR!

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  6. I thought The Luminous Life... was a fantastic book so I'll definitely be adding this to the wishlist, although I also like an ending to be wrapped up. Great review Leanna

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  7. I adore historical fiction. Thanks for this great review!

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  8. After this review, I am definitely going to check out The Luminous Life << just that title makes me swoon. Can't say I've heard of this author, so I'll be sure to be on the lookout for this book! Lovely review Leanna :)

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