Monday, 30 September 2013

Let It Be Me is the story of Bridget Forrester, a piano genius sorely afflicted with stage fright, not to mention a bad case of middle child syndrome to apparently the most beautiful girl ever to have a face. She receives a letter that changes her life (also a tree falls on her house -- pretty life-changing stuff) and ends up travelling to Venice. She seeks out the famous composer Carpenini, hoping to engage him as a teacher to improve and refine her musical skill. 

As it always seems to be with one's idols in fiction, musical or otherwise, Carpenini falls short of expectation, being a cantankerous old troll with a highly dubious moral compass. It is his friend the dependable Mr. Oliver Merrick who she ends up falling in love with. Along the way, there are deliciously Italian theatrics, high-stakes piano competitions, and delightful strolls through the romantically salty city of Venice (not to mention a memorable trip to Vienna).

Reading a description of music can hardly ever be as good as hearing it in person, but Kate Noble's retelling of the premiere night of Beethoven's Ninth had me holding my breath. I felt I could hear the swelling of the music in my head, exploding forth from my skull and soaring into the heavens, leaving quite a mess behind. I would like nothing better than to be witness to such a historical performance (first thing I'll be doing when they start handing out time machines, thank you very much!). I don't think I've ever read anything as moving or heartbreaking as her description of Beethoven coming out from the audience to conduct the music only he could hear.

I loved this book, and not just for the way you could sense such a respect and passion for music in the writing -- the romance was pretty good too. I don't mean to damn the other part of the book with faint praise (interesting that for me, the romance forms the 'other' part of the book, and in fact maybe I could have done without it), but the atmosphere of nearly constant background piano music makes this book so much more enchanting to me, and that works out to the benefit of all the other parts.

Bridget and Oliver seem to be one of those solid couples in romance that you can truly see working out in real life. A lot of the time, whatever high-octane chemistry exists between the couples in these books seems destined to fizzle out a few chapters past the end of the book. Bridget and Oliver look like they've relaxed into each other like a dependable pair of old shoes. I liked that there was no real tension with them -- it's rare to find such easygoing relationships in the genre that you can just settle into, like an old comfortable armchair.

Having had terrible stage fright and a tendency to nervously speed up my tempo myself, I could relate completely with Bridget's performance anxieties. Reading about her overcoming them was vicariously satisfying (though I honestly doubt that the power of love and all that rot would wipe away my own case of the nerves). The development of her character was one of the best things about this book -- it's rare to see a heroine work as hard as she must have over the course of the story.

I didn't even think twice about putting this book among my favorites. If you love music, if you love characters that actually get things done through hard work and determination, if you love Venice and its own particular brand of mysterious romance, you'll love this.


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