Wednesday, 19 October 2011

He liked it!

…  a provocative novel by an elegant writer who has blazed her own path.

In these days of bite-sized time-bytes into which our days are nibbled, it's a treat to come upon well crafted essay-style blog postings, or book reviews that take time to savour and digest and to analyse the themes of a novel (in this case) within a wider social context. Anyway Dorothee and I were delighted to receive this thoughtful, flavoursome review of The Glass Harmonica: a sensualist's tale by Jim Cullen for the History News Network:
"Dorothee Kocks has had an intriguing career. A graduate of the University of Chicago, she went on to pursue a doctorate in American Civilization in the decidedly different climate of Brown (where our paths crossed almost a quarter-century ago). She got a tenure-track job at the University of Utah, proceeding to publish a richly suggestive piece of scholarship, Dream a Little: Land and Social Justice in in Modern America (California, 2000). Then she ditched her teaching post, took up the accordion, and began traveling widely, supporting herself with odd jobs. Last year, she made a foray into fiction by publishing her first novel, The Glass Harmonica, as an e-book with a New Zealand-based publisher. It has just been published in a print edition.

"Kocks's unusual vocational trajectory is worth tracing here, because The Glass Harmonica is an unusual book. A work of historical fiction that bridges the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it also sprawls across Europe and North America. Napoleon Bonaparte makes a cameo appearance, but its core is a love story between a commoner Corsican musician, Chjara Valle, and an entrepreneurial American purveyor of erotica, Henry Garland. The two lovers encounter any number of obstacles -- principally in the form of spiteful people on either side of the Atlantic -- but nevertheless manage to build a life together,  one animated by the mysteriously alluring (and thus to many threatening) glass harmonica, a musical instrument which enjoyed a vogue in the age of its inventor, Benjamin Franklin.

"Such a summary makes the book seem simpler than it is. For one thing, The Glass Harmonica is rich with historical texture. Brimming with research, it vividly recreates any number of subcultures, ranging from continental drawing-room entertainments to the feverish intensity of revivial meetings. As one might expect of a writer who has spent much of her life, and much of her work, exploring the concept of place, Kocks also evokes varied geographies -- urban Paris and Philadelphia, rural upstate New York, coastal New England;  et. al. An afterword limns her sources and provides set of footnotes worth studying for their own sake.

"Kocks also boldly trespasses over contemporary convention in realistic fiction, eschewing the spare, lean quality of modern prose in favor of lush, omniscient narration. 'On the morning Chjara Valle quickened in her mother's womb, the sun reached its red fingers over the Mediterranean Sea,' the novel opens." See the rest …

Last night I dreamed that a rat ran up my leg – friendly though. This one is holding a placard on the end of his pole, that says, Occupy The Glass Harmonica!


Kay McKenzie Cooke said...

Congratulations Pen! I plan to get my hands / eyes on to a copy of Glass Harmonica one day ... How do you manage to make the idea of a rat running up one's leg into something whimsical, funny and cute? (You have a wonderful way with words and image).

Penelope said...

Haha, I have a head start on rats. Our son had one and I came to appreciate its humorous take on life. Ever seen a rat leap to bite a dog on the bum, in passing?