December 28, 2015

Book Review: The Song of Hartgrove Hall by Natasha Solomons

Publication Date: December 29, 2015

Source: Vine

New Year’s Eve, Dorset, England, 1946. Candles flicker, a gramophone scratches out a tune as guests dance and sip champagne— for one night Hartgrove Hall relives better days. Harry Fox-Talbot and his brothers have returned from World War II determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But the arrival of beautiful Jewish wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, and leads to a devastating betrayal.

Fifty years later, now a celebrated composer, Fox reels from the death of his adored wife, Edie. Until his connection with his four-year old grandson - a music prodigy – propels him back into life, and ultimately to confront his past. An enthralling novel about love and treachery, joy after grief, and a man forced to ask: is it ever too late to seek forgiveness?

I became a fan of Natasha Solomons upon reading The House of Tyneford, which was a romantic and emotionally gripping historical fiction set in World War II-era England.  The Song of Hartgrove Hall has alternating timelines from the point of view of the youngest of three English sons, Fox: one is post-World War II when Fox is a young man just back from the war and the other Fox as an elderly man mourning the recent loss of his beloved wife, Edie. Much of the past storyline centers around Fox pining for his brother’s girlfriend – whom you know, upon reading the future chapters, will eventually become his wife.  There is no suspense on whether they will end up together or not. The romantic suspense is in the how, which is related to the overarching theme of novel, that of music.

The Song of Hartgrove Hall has got to be one the best novels I’ve ever read which paints a vivid “picture” of how music inspires feeling, how it transports. The young Fox is a fledgling, amateur composer, who hides his passion from his military father. He goes around the English countryside listening to folk songs and setting them down to paper so that they will not be lost.

“He closes his eyes and starts to sing. He calls to the wind and curses the rain and the sky and the cruelty of the fate that leaves him out on the bare hillside while rich men snooze by their fires.  His voice shakes with fervor, and there’s an anger, raw and fierce, and he is both the singer and the song.  This isn’t a sentimental lament ruing some idealised past but a personal cry.  The sound seems to grow from the soil itself is somehow familiar as though I’ve heard it before and forgotten.  I want to catch hold of it, to fix this moment, and then he stops and it’s lost, but so am I.”

We know from the future chapters that at some point, Fox becomes a successful, professional composer, and that somehow it is music that brings he and Edie together.  While the early chapters are ones of hope and longing, the future ones are of loss and lament. Again, Solomons uses a painterly language for music to uplift and transcend the grieving Fox. I found myself eagerly looking forward to the musical passages that wove through the novel like lovely interludes.

“I’m struck with nostalgia for things I’ve never known. I yearn for a world unmapped, filled with hidden places and wild things, where there  are still dark places concealed deep in the woods where people dare not go. A place of long-forgotten songs.”

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