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The Song is You by Arthur Phillips

The Song is You

by Arthur Phillips

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3673629,545 (3.5)50
  1. 10
    High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (elenchus)
    elenchus: Similar taste in music by the protagonists, but a very different novel. Both very good.

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Julian and Rachel fell in love and got married and (before Rachel could get annoyed that Julian was fucking around) Rachel got pregnant. The Song Is You starts after their son, Carlton, has died from an ear infection gone awry. He died 2 weeks after his second birthday and his death almost kills the marriage, too.

The Song Is You traces Julian's life afterward; the women he attempts to seduce, his splintered relationship with his wife, his wife's relationship with her brother in law (Julian's older brother Aidan) and a almost romance with a singer Julian meets at a club in Brooklyn.

Phillips handles loss well, because that is what this book is about; how people manage to cope with the loss they cannot control (and had nothing to do with) sometimes by replacing it with mistakes they can control ( )
  minxcr1964 | Jul 26, 2014 |
Hot Irish singer chick falls in love with a self absorbed commercial director who's grieving over the death of his son. Here's the twist (spoiler alert)-they never meet.
Love, loss, the importance of the Ipod playlist. Nick Hornby on steroids and too clever by half. ( )
  HenryKrinkle | Jul 23, 2014 |
I think this is Arthur Phillips best novel (although I haven't read Prague). It is a perfectly written and plotted story about middle-aged man obsessed with a younger singer, who also appears obsessed with him. But they keep passing it in the most glancing of manners. Reading it through the lens of the unreliable narrators in Phillips' earlier books made it more interesting. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
I tried really hard to like this book. But wading through all the wordy prose just wasn't worth the payoff. It was difficult to read and didn't hold my attention at all. I was glad to finally put this one down. ( )
  kellerific | Apr 6, 2013 |
I expected a lot from the author of one of my favorite books, The Egyptologist, and I was only slightly disappointed. Both narratives include literary teasing and delayed gratification, but this one ends on a less satisfying (to some readers?) note. I enjoyed the entire journey and did not mind the lack of a "money shot" at the end.

The descriptions of music, and its emotional impact, were quite lovely, and the humor was sly.

Favorite lines:

"...as the bassist's left hand crept up and down his instrument's black neck like half of a hesitantly aggressive spider..."

"He had accepted that he was older than baseball players (even knuckleballers), older than astronauts, older than Playboy models, older than rock stars and Oscar-winning directors, but now he was reminded that he was older than people who went to nightclubs to hear live music, as his parents used to do. He calculated to be sure: yes, he was older than his father had been in those memories of his parents going out on the town."

"The best of him was a child's drawing of her on an off day."

"...the dual, peelable scallops of bronzed calf joining under the muscular H at the back of her knee..."

"The target was only microns wide, and history's great singers may simply have been those who happened to make a record in the brief time between learning and forgetting how to manage their power."

"That matronizing sentiment--one Rachel used to flash from time to time--combined with the slow insertion of food into red mouth, was a hardwired tactic of the human female. They would offer themselves sexually at the same moment they insisted they understood their potential mate better than he understood himself. The praying mantis just bites her male's head off, and only after the fun; the human insists upon dissolving her mate's personality before the pleasure."

[At the dog park] "...whimpering Labradoodles and Lhasapuggles, rotthuahuas, cocksunds, schnorkies, and shiht-boxes."

"She flared and glowed, the hot yellow center of a solar system planeted by these concentric eccentrics."

[At the dog park again] "...and a black Lab supposedly training to become a Seeing Eye dog but who threw herself on her back for tummy rubs so promiscuously for any passing pedestrian that her unlucky eventual blind man would be daily spun to the ground like a volunteer in a judo class." ( )
  librarianarpita | Sep 27, 2012 |
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The Muses are virgins....Cupid, when sometimes asked by his mother Venus why he did not attach the Muses, used to reply that he found them so beautiful, so pure, so modest, bashful, and continually occupied...in the arrangement of music, that when he drew near them he unstrung his bow, closed his quiver, and put out his torch, since they made him shy and afraid of injuring them.
--Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, 3:31
Ground control to Major Tom:
Commencing countdown, engines on.

-Lincoln-Mercury ad
And I keep hoping you are the same as me.
And I'll send you letters. . .

-the Sundays, "My Finest Hour"
I touched you at the soundcheck. . .
In my heart I begged, "Take me with you."

-the Smiths, "Paint a Vulgar Picture"
The number one I hope to reap
Depends upon the tears you weep, so cry!

-the Beautiful South, "Song for Whoever"
For Jan, of course
First words
Julian Donahue's father was on a Billie Holiday record.
A piece of music's conquest of you is not likely to occur the first time you hear it, though it is possible that the aptly named "hook" might barb your ear on its first pass.  More commonly, the assailant is slightly familiar and has leveraged that familiarity to gain access to the criss-crossed wiring of your interior life.  And then there is a possession, a mutual possession, for just as you take the song as part of you and your history, it is claiming dominion for itself, planting fluttering eighth notes in your heart. [51]
Julian tried music in the hope that it would restore some part of himself, some ability to desire someone or something.  He hoped that music might, at least, seep into cuts, smooth over a surface, be useful, pay him back for all his years of commitment to it. And music succeeded, a little, or was the coincidental soundtrack to some recovery that would have occurred in any case: Julian did, now and again, regain that sense of pleasant unfulfillment.  He replaced, for a few minutes at a time, his agony with a benign pop-music ache, admittedly adolescent but now oddly specific: he longed for Rachel, for his own wife, in a way he had never longed for her before, even when they had first met and she was not yet his. [77]
He couldn't even claim he'd failed to make a great film, as he had never tried.  He remembered wanting to make one.  He wished he still did, but he didn't.  He wished he were an artist, a great artist, but sometimes he also wished he was an astronaut. [82]
She was not "in despair"; despair had taken residence in her as a boarder who came and left according to his own whims, rather than the posted hours the landlady respectfully requested. [87]
Julian had decided not to sleep with his assistant because a CD told him not to. This, obviously, meant something else; his own brief therapy had succeeded at least that far.  ...  He told himself that the oddly affecting experience with Cait O'Dwyer really meant that he had a hunger not for the singer but, like his father always had, for live music, and what a wonder it was, a privilege, to live in this city of sound. [88-89]
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Behind his hipness and attitude, Julian Donahue is going through an emotional crisis that started when his two-year-old son died of a freak infection. His wife, Rachel, reacted by vigorously cheating on him; Julian, meanwhile, went impotent. But his potency returns one night in his Brooklyn apartment as he listens to a CD by rising Irish singer-starlet Cait O'Dwyer. As his interest in her music and career grows into a full-blown obsession, Julian meets washed-up rocker-turned-painter Alec Stamford (who harbors a few of his own bizarre yearnings), and Julian is propelled to do more than mill around in the back of crowds at Cait's performances.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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