Frozen Music, by Marika Cobbold

Esther is a journalist living in England; Linus is a Swedish architect. Although each is vaguely aware of the other, as a result of an old friendship between their families, they've never met, until Esther takes up the cause of an elderly couple who are about to be evicted from their homes in order to make way for the building of a new opera hall, designed by Linus.

From the book's prologue, it seems that we know what's going to happen between Esther and Linus, but it's quite an interesting journey. Until they meet, alternate sections have Esther, writing in the first person, describing her life starting from childhood, which gives some explanation to the sense of insecurity and indecision she feels. Linus's story (I keep typing "Linux") is told in the third person (maybe it's meant to have been written by Esther): he's also been affected by events in his childhood, and at the start of the book is in a loveless marriage with a wife who doesn't understand him.

It sounds like it could be a bit slushy, but the writing is good, and Esther's inner demons are well described: after leading a campaign in her magazine which results in the cancellation of the opera house project, she becomes paralysed with self-doubt following a couple of incidents where catastrophic consequences follow from seemingly innocent actions. Shortly afterwards she has a kind of nervous breakdown, and it's after this that she journeys to Sweden with her mother and ends up spending time with Linus and his family.

Linus' past is full of its own problems, and the family is sufficiently strange to be believable. The author is Swedish, so the scenes set at the family's holiday home seem very convincing. And although the prologue appeared to have given away the book's conclusion, I wasn't really sure how things would work out.

The "Frozen Music" of the title is the term Linus uses to describe what he wants to achieve with his designs. There was a good quote in there where he talks about the need for art to move on and do something new, while taking inspiration from existing work: "I don't try to design something new just for the hell of it. I believe in learning from the work of the past, but again, that knowledge has, to my mind, to be used to bring architecture forward. The proportion of a Gustavian room is second to none. You'd be a fool if you didn't study the buildings of that learn and absorb all that knowledge, all those ideas, but if, in the end, all you do is copy you stagnate and we end up living in a world of pale imitations".

Quite good writing, I think I'll try more by this author.

Completed : 11-Aug-2007

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