Drawn in by the blurb, which mentions Baroque music and Paris 1989, I bought this novel in a remainder shop long, long ago. I recall several attempts at reading it, but I was always put off by a certain pretentiousness, a narrative voice that reminds me of teenage poetry: precocious, full of undigested aesthetics, determinedly highbrow.
It's not actually that bad a book. It is pretentious -- the title rather gives that away -- but there's a core of strongly-felt, genuine emotion at the heart of the tale.
It's the story of an American narrator (I can't recall her name, and I only read this on Sunday: perhaps her name's never given?) who's living in Paris, obsessing over her lover, an Alsatian violinist named Stephane ("you should hear what he does to Bach's Partita in D minor") whose wife abuses him verbally and physically. Her husband visits her, and takes her out for dinner, and doesn't seem especially bothered that she's living apart from him and seeing someone else. She's in love with a church tower.
The tale feels like a series of disconnected scenes: walking in the snow, shoving through the crowds gathered for the bicentennial celebrations, listening to buskers in the Metro, sitting on the terrace of a lakeside cafe on a cold autumn day. There's little (if any) distinction between dream and reality. The novel is peppered with recurring themes, lietmotifs: glass, everywhere, often stained with blood; white cats fishing for goldfish; carnivorous birds; Count Dracula; the three boys from Die Zauberflote; voracious rats everywhere; Dorothy and Oz and Kansas; Stradivarius violins. Lots of Baroque music, and I do love the way she writes about it. And Paris! Food-poisoning in the Place Clichy, "that most rank and lovely circus of urban squalor"; stained glass in the Basilica St-Denis (which I hadn't realised was where Peter Abelard had ended up).
There's something a little off-key, a little overripe about this novel. Perhaps it's that it's written by an American who's striving for a European aesthetic, a lush Old World feel. Or, to give the author credit, perhaps that's what her narrator's in love with -- gilded, rotting, ancient, Baroque.
Just then an auto alarm went off in the street, harping insanely on the diminished fifth: DEE dum DEE dum DEE dum! The car horns gave out a chorus of syncopated G sharps. Underneath, the church bells were tolling a Mass for the Dead. In the middle voice a pneumatic drill began a canon at the fourth.