Friday, March 20, 2009

The Travelling Horn Player, Barbara Trapido

I have a long standing affection for Barbara Trapido's first novel, Brother of the More Famous Jack. It is endlessly quotable, full of funny moments & literary allusions, and several characters get to have a happy ending which I appreciate. I saw this and thought I would have similar feelings for The Travelling Horn Player... I was so wrong.

The Travelling Horn Player was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and it starts out promisingly. The chapters are each told from a different character's point of view and everything revolves around the accidental death of a young student, Lydia Dent. Everyone is in some way connected back to Lydia. The first chapter is told from Lydia's sister's point of view. Their father dubbed them "gigglers one and two" and treated them like "two halves of the same pantomime horse". The chapter is sad and sweet and believable.

My problems with this book are not with Trapido's writing. She is consistently funny, smart, and entertaining. My problem is with her plot. I just don't buy it in this book.

She lost me as the second chapter opened describing a famous novelist- all of a sudden I realized that the famous novelist is the same (formerly) struggling young writer who was last seen having a happy in love ending with the main character from Brother of the More Famous Jack. I don't like books that don't advertise themselves as sequels revisiting perfectly happy characters and taking them from their "Rosie O'Grady lifestyle" pg. 44 into an amoral-midlife-crisis- casual-adultery territory. It made me mad to see the happy ending of the earlier book cheapened by this book.

I'm not going to list the rest of my grievances with this book: I have plenty. The main one being that I just don't think it is realistic; especially the plot line with Stella and what she does on the last pages of the book. It is seriously lame is all I will say.

Chapbook: all these entries are from the first (& best) chapter when I still thought I was reading a good book...

"I ask no flower,
I ask no star;
I am no gardener
And the stars are too high"

Die sterne stehn zu hoch

-Wilhelm Muller

pg. 3 vergissmeinnicht

pg. 6 Lydia's letter

pg. 8 making the cake for "the novelist"

pg. 9
"Pitted with holes the size of sixpence"
"It must have given the vicar fair gyp"

pg. 10
"This book is NOT literature"

pg. 17
serving suggestions

pg. 25
"a frenzy of specialist consumer activity"

pg. 39
"She was a person who had experienced amputation"

"Dover Beach"
Heart of Darkness
"For I Love Sweet Rosie O'Grady, and Rosie O'Grady loves me."
song at the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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