Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: "Sight Reading" by Daphne Kalotay

Title: Sight Reading
Author: Daphne Kalotay
Publisher: Harper Collins
Date Published: May 21, 2013
Pages: 352 pages

How I Heard About It:  A review  copy of this newly-released paperback was provided by TLC Book Tours and the publisher as part of Daphne Kalotay's official blog tour. 

Two Sentence Summary: Sight Reading closely follows the lives of professional, classical musicians embroiled in the music school / conservatory scene.  A student (Remy) and her conductor begin an intricate affair that becomes just one of the many complicated landscapes these dark characters navigate.

Daphne Kalotay
Things I Think: As a long-time violinist, I was terrified to read this book.  The only thing worse than someone fake-playing instruments in movies is someone fake-writing about playing instruments in novels. Research can be done, and people can be interviewed, and performances can be reviewed to glean facts, but conveying the experience of the well-trained musician is something that can easily fall flat, or descend into the realm of the tritely romanticized.

But Ms. Kalotay nailed it. From the descriptions of orchestral collaboration to the intensity of master classes, competition, and rigorous rehearsals, nearly everything about the musical picture felt, from the perspective of someone who has experienced these things, familiar and real. 

While the setting of the musical conservatory is what lends the book its most exotic aspect, the plot is a bit less engaging: a young, starry-eyed student falls in love with her older, mysterious (married with a kid) conductor; the conductor's wife is struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation due to constant intercontinental moves; the conductor's closest work friend is a foil, well-versed in the ways of student-instructor relationships and seemingly unashamed of his affairs. The scenarios are familiar and the plot movements are often anticipated. 

The elegance of the prose (as described by novelist Tom Perotta)makes me draw a metaphor between the content and style: like a classical composition, the opening gestures are indicative of how the piece will develop and progress. Because the story's skeleton is fleshed out with such vividly beautiful description and well-crafted dialogue, it matters less that we've heard stories like these before.