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The Song of Names by Norman Lebrecht

The Song of Names

by Norman Lebrecht

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
A promising storyline that just never reached its potential. ( )
  libsue | Feb 7, 2011 |
Martin L. Simmonds is the underachieving son of a music manager whose life changes forever when a Polish violin prodigy comes to live with his family during the World War II. But Dovidl's family perishes in the Holocaust, and Dovidl becomes more a part of the Simmonds family than Martin has ever felt. The two become like brothers, but on the day of his great public violin debut, Dovidl disappears, leaving the Simmonds family in a shambles and Martin without a sense of direction or hope.

The first thing that struck me about this novel was the overbearing prose. It seems that in an attempt to cast Martin as an erudite character, the author feels the need to use unnecessarily long and/or complex words and weighty diction. He only keeps this up for the first chapter or so -- after that, Martin seems to adopt a speech pattern more like that of normal people, although his snotty self-righteousness persists throughout the story.

I really wanted to like this story. It's intriguing enough, and the premise is a good one, but the characters are sufficiently without merit to evoke little sympathy, and the story unfolds haltingly as if the author wasn't entirely sure where it was going until he finished each chapter and moved on to the next. The basis of the books title turns out to be quite poignant, but it gets relatively little attention in the grand scheme of the novel, and ends up falling a little flat.

Lebrecht's knowledge of music and music history is impressive, and he weaves this knowledge into the story rather seamlessly. This is perhaps the selling point of the story, and was largely what kept me reading. If the rest of the story had been as well crafted, this would have been a much more rewarding read. As it stands, it was enjoyable enough, but not a book I'd likely return to.
  Eneles | Feb 28, 2010 |
Until the arrival of a young musical prodigy, Martin’s childhood is the unfavourable child’s stereotype. Bullied, overlooked and with a stutter to round things off, his friendship with Doivdl (as he is nicknamed) becomes something necessary to Martin’s survival and sense of self-worth. David, meanwhile, is the hope of everyone around him, including Martin’s parents who are staking so much on his debut, and his own parents, from whom he has heard nothing since their disappearance in Warsaw. When he disappears, Martin's life seems on hold, passionless, until he stumbles across a musical clue forty years later.

There was nothing technically wrong with this novel, and I’d be hard pressed to explain why it failed to reach the giddy heights of the four-out-of-five-star rating that I would have like it to have achieved based on its premise. There was just something uninspiring about the bulk of this story… there are a few moments where it rises above its own weight of back-story and outdistances the present-day narration to tell something important and profound, but it is lost again so quickly that the overall impression of this book is of waiting for the point to be made.

It might be that this lacklustre atmosphere and crushing anticipation are the author’s intended results. His first-person narrator is afflicted by both, so why not the reader? Unfortunately, the banality seeps over into the character of those who were supposed to shine. I am not capable of reading about the holocaust – even in fiction – without being moved, and the passages regarding ‘the song of names’ itself were beautiful, and yet because they were told to the narrator, as more back-story, it was as though the importance were being stifled. Everything else about the story left me largely unaffected. I didn’t hate it, but it did disappoint me. ( )
  eleanor_eader | Feb 17, 2010 |
First novel. Recommended by Elizabeth Schwartz. Lebrecht was a cultural commentator for the BBC.
  AMS_musicology | Aug 27, 2009 |
I have to say that I didn't really enjoy this book. The story itself is a good one, but it just wasn't told well. I was bored most of the time and I didn't feel sympathy for or even like any of the characters, except perhaps the wife who was only a very minor character anyway. The story wasn't told chronologically which made especially the beginning quite boring. When I found out what the "Song of Names" actually was, it was a bit heart-stopping, but that was one of the few touching moments in the book, and it was short-lived. I did enjoy that large vocabulary in this book--I came across a word I didn't know every twenty pages or so--that's something that doesn't happen often. Overall, I wouldn't recommend this. Too boring. I'm sure you can find similar stories told much better elsewhere. ( )
  stubbyfingers | Dec 14, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Never delude yourself that you do this job for love of music," counsels Mr Simmonds senior, a promoter of unashamedly populist concerts, and the entrepreneurial force behind Norman Lebrecht's Song of Names. "Artists give managers a bad name, but where would they be without us? The grubbier we look, the brighter they shine. Never trust a musician when he speaks about love, never trust a manager when he speaks about money."

Lebrecht's novel has been shortlisted for the Whitbread first book award. It follows the career of Simmonds junior, the unwilling inheritor of the family business, as he struggles to come to terms with the loss of his boyhood friend Eli, a Polish-Jewish refugee taken in by his parents during the war. Eli is a highly-strung violin prodigy of potential genius whose disappearance on the eve of his debut has all the hallmarks of a musical mystery in the David Helfgott/Glenn Gould mould.

The music-biz interludes intrigue and convince. Lebrecht . . . always knows the score
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"Martin Simmonds' father tells him, "Never trust a musician when he speaks about love." The advice comes too late. Martin already loves Dovidl Rapoport, an eerily gifted Polish violin prodigy whose parents left him in the Simmonds's care before they perished in the Holocaust. For a time the two boys are closer than brothers. But on the day he is to make his official debut, Dovidl disappears. Only 40 years later does Martin get his first clue about what happened to him."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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