Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell (2 out of 5)
I love, love, love this cover. It reminds me of a Sarah Waters novel. Or better yet, Victoria Thompson. However, the old adage is “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Sadly, this is the case here. I hope it’s just a matter of time and focus, and that I just couldn’t dig it because I am in bed sick with a cold, although I polished off (read, not ate) five books in the past three days. Not sure why, but I just did not dig this book at all.
I should preface this whole review with the disclaimer that I LOVE Mozart. Everything I can read, biography or historical fiction, in which he is a character, is sure to be read by me (Napoleon also, who, despite popular belief, is NOT a poet. That’s another story). I am not a fan of opera, but I love to learn more about music and the classical leanings of it. I did learn a lot about opera here, also more than I needed to know about castratos, but that part of the story was researched and written well. I enjoyed learning about that. The problem, at least in my opinion, is with the characters and how the “romantic leanings” were handled.
Anna Storace is an eleven year old musical virtuoso with the classical voice of an angel. Her family life marred by debts and tragedy, she gets the chance of a lifetime to go sing in Vienna, the City of Music,invited personally by the Emperor. Her journey to Vienna is not only marked by tears but also the heartbreak of betrayal and first love gone awry. Anna’s trip and life change forever when she meets Mozart, a tremendously gifted pianist and composer. The attraction is immediate and forbidden, as both are married to others. Anna becomes his muse, inspiring several of his most famous works, and the story of their forbidden love and musical genius captures eighteenth century history in all its grit and glory. Their love story is the center of the novel, yet you feel as if you don’t have the whole story. Something is missing here.
Anna, as a character, seems a little more child-like than you would expect. And I don’t mean when the story begins, because she’s only eleven at the time, but as the story weaves on and time passes, she never really seems to grow up. Not sure if the naivete is supposed to continue to be present after that fact or what, but it continues to lurk behind her dreams and desires, and that took a little bit of the believing factor away from me. I was annoyed by her childish, whimsical tone. Again, maybe due to the tragedy and betrayals that mark her life in parts, maybe Shotwell wants her to maintain some innocence to get the character through life, but it was driving me insane. Some of Anna’s interactions with other characters in the story are marked by the same tone; witness her letters in the first half of the book to her brother Stephen in England.
The characters in the book also suffer from a lack of completion. You feel like Shotwell sets the scene and lets the chips fall where they may. The problem is, they fall by the wayside, so do the characters, and you stop giving a crap. That’s not how you get people enraptured with your story. You get loose threads that are never tied up; the emperor’s being taken with Anna, for example. Referred to several times and written as thus, but there is never a tie-up of that. Anna has dealings with Haydn the composer, and those are forgotten completely, yet history shows that there was collaboration. The threads aren’t tied completely. If you aren’t going to finish what you start, why put that into the story to begin with? If you’re trying to drive the reader insane; congratulations! You’ve succeeded.
Mozart, as written by Shotwell, keeps his childlike face on throughout. However, if you’ve done your Mozart research (or seen the tremendous movie Amadeus, circa 1984), you know that as young at heart as he tried to be, there was a troubled, serious side to the young composer. This is not a side seen or even remotely mentioned in this imagining of Mozart. That really was the topper to this bacon double cheeseburger of a doomsday meal. I could not shake that as I read that book. I kept waiting for the tortured artist to emerge. He’s a married man who’s insanely in love with his musical soulmate, and neither one can or will leave their marriage to be together…and he’s slap-happy? I have a real hard time falling for that. That did not endear the story to me.
Overall, I feel like this was a great opportunity wasted. Ms. Shotwell paints an incredibly vivid background of England and Vienna in the eighteenth century, but those playing their roles in the novel are more Sesame Street characters than tortured lovers. I can’t go for that, no can do. (Sorry to Hall and Oates for copyright infringement). The cover is great. It’s a quick read also, but too quick. As if it’s missing not only some character depth, but some characters as well.