|UK edition (1999)|
Years on TBR: 13 or so
Edition owned: London: Chatto & Windus, 1999 (hb, 454pp)
Back in February, I declared my intention to review one book from the TBR Pile Challenge each month during 2013. Obviously, this hasn't happened, but I'm doing my best to catch up!
As implied by the title, Music and Silence is a novel of contrasts. Tremain uses delicate, almost ethereal language to evoke her themes of intense passion, obsession, and longing. Heated affairs play out during the cold, desolate winters of northern Europe, and the gentle heroine vies against the malign forces at court and in her own family.
So many readers have told me that this is one of their favorite novels, so I turned the first page prepared to be impressed, but with slight trepidation (would I agree?). I quickly learned that Music and Silence demands a quiet frame of mind. It's not tolerant of distractions, and if you try to read it while other things are going on in the background, you'll need to tune them out first. It took me a few chapters to realize this.
The royal court of 1620s-30s Denmark isn't one that figures in other historical novels I've heard of, and Tremain has so thoroughly claimed this setting and its major players for her own that no other author is likely to try.
|US edition (2000)|
The progression of Peter and Emilia's tender romance forms the novel's centerpiece, but it also encompasses many other stories about love: Emilia's close bond with her young brother Marcus, Christian's pursuit of the adulterous Kirsten, and dowager queen Sofie's love for her money. There's also a subplot about Peter's plain sister Charlotte, back in England, and the fiancé nobody expected her to have; I found this story especially moving.
None of these, however, is as compelling to read about as Kirsten's love for herself.
|Kirsten Munk by Jacob van Doordt|
For her birthday, Christian gives her a gold statue in his image, and even her disgust is mixed with lasciviousness.
I didn't ask for yet another likeness of my ageing husband. I asked for gold. Now I will have to pretend to love and worship the Statue and put it in a prominent place et cetera for fear of causing offence, when I would prefer to take it to the Royal Mint and melt it into an ingot which I would enjoy caressing with my hands and feet, and even take into my bed sometimes to feel solid gold against my cheek or laid between my thighs.
Kirsten's one saving grace would be her affection for Emilia, were it not for the fact that Emilia is the only person who tolerates her, and so Kirsten connives to keep her and Peter apart. Kirsten pours all her wicked thoughts onto the page in a completely uninhibited way. She believes she deserves the reader's undivided attention, and she gets it.
Tormented by thoughts of Kirsten with her German lover, Christian reflects on his "quiet and orderly" married life with his queen and first bride, Anna Catherine of Brandenburg, who died in 1612. Here, as elsewhere, the writing truly glows:
|Christian IV by Peeter Isaacsz|
The abiding tone in Music and Silence one of melancholy, which reminded me in places of Tremain's Merivel. Christian uses music to calm his spirit during his endless search for perfection – which he rarely finds. In addition to his marital problems, Denmark is suffering economically, with failed mining ventures and a near-empty treasury. The darkness, though, is embedded with many bright spots: music, love, and hope for the future.
If asked to choose between the two Tremain novels I'd read, I'd have to say I prefer Merivel, for the entertaining company of the man himself, but I thoroughly enjoyed Music and Silence, too, both for its language and style and for the depictions of its excellent cast of characters.