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The Song is You by Arthur Phillips
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The Song is You

by Arthur Phillips

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3513630,911 (3.54)43
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  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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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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 |
I'm very sorry not to be able to speak of this one with enthusiasm. After enjoying both The Egyptologist and Prague so much and giving them very high ratings, I was looking forward to reading The Song Is You.

Instead it wore me out by the time I reached the one-third mark, and I'm putting it down.

Since I don't think it's quite fair to "review" a book I haven't finished, I'll just say it's well written, like the others, but it didn't engage me at all. Maybe if I were of the generation for whom an iPod is an essential wardrobe item, I'd respond to it differently. I love music, but having a song in my ear at all times is not my lifestyle. That seems to be the framework of this novel.

After a while I'll give Phillips another try, with a different novel.
  Meredy | Mar 20, 2012 |
This is a very smart read. Its the kind of book you want to read with a pencil so you can highlight passages that ring true. There are clever descriptions, anecdotes and plot turns. Phillips demands strict attention and can take the reader to distant points from one paragraph to the next. He is on my short list of new novelists to look out for. I'm also now his friend on face ( )
  BennyChicago | Dec 29, 2011 |
Music, like poetry, captures and magnifies emotions in a way that descriptive, neutral prose cannot. Nor can “real life” provide the background lyrics and sound that turn a mundane existence into a tale worthy of the silver screen. Enter the IPod. In this intelligent and poignant novel by multi-talented Arthur Phillips, the protagonist - 44-year-old Julian Donahue, turns a mid-life crisis into a rock concert movie not only by giving his life a constant soundtrack, but by pursuing one of the most affecting artists on his playlist of singers, a local Irish beauty (age 22) who fronts a rock band that often plays at a club near his home in Brooklyn.

Julian has had a painful existence of late. He and his wife have separated after a year of struggling, unsuccessfully, to survive the death of their two year old son Carlton. His libido is gone, his passion for life is waning, and he can’t imagine how he can get his life back on a positive track. And so he turns to the old familiar tracks he knows: he sets his IPod to shuffle, and taps into the longing expressed by the songs. Julian aches for a return to emotion in his own life, but doesn’t know where to find it, until he hears Cait O’Dwyer sing. He is convinced her songs speak only to him; that the lines she writes have gained “access to the criss-crossed wiring of [his] interior life.” The more he hears her and becomes affected by her music, the more he becomes obsessed by her:

"The dense terrine of feeling in Julian – regret, hope, sorrow, faltering ambition, longing – startles him. It could not be produced in such concentration and quantity without the voice, and so… he comes to crave the voice because it reveals the feelings he could not find in silence."

Cait’s guitarist Ian was also smitten with Cait from the moment he began to play music with her, but is afraid to tell her so. But he remembers that moment vividly: "That very first song ended, and they both knew: the sound had been a multiple of them both. And they knew. They sat in a long silence as the sound they had made traveled down the street, out to sea, up to distant stars. Only the low hum of his amp persisted, and he was afraid (as she looked at him and he considered leaping at her) that the pickup from his guitar would pick up his heartbeat and play it for her.”

Later, Ian comes to see Julian as a rival, even though Julian and Cait have never actually met. But that doesn’t mean they don’t communicate, and it is this communication and its poignant outcome that makes up the bulk of the story.

Discussion: There’s a lot to think about at the end: what makes attraction viable? How can you separate need from love, or should you even try? To what extent should we resign ourselves to our perceived fates, or should we “rage, rage, against the dying of the light”? And then there was my own personal reaction to the ending: was the reason I was so profoundly affected (sorry, can’t tell you in what way or it might spoil it for you!) because of my own personal history? I.e., was the reader in the text or would the text have that impact regardless of the reader?

Evaluation: I rarely get the reading experience I had here of a love story being a page-turning edge-of-my-seat kind of experience. And part of the love story was mine, as I fell for the author’s beautifully engineered phrases (e.g., in addition to the quotes given above, referring to face-to-face encounters as “archaic forms of human interaction” and testing the waters of a relationship as taking an “escargotically slow approach”). This is a wonderful book for reading and discussing in the company of a book club, or for reading alone in a room full of flickering candles, with a soundtrack from the moments of your life you most want to relive, when your life was full of passion, and hunger, and loving and loss. ( )
1 vote nbmars | Nov 30, 2011 |
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Epigraph
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"
Dedication
For Jan, of course
First words
Julian Donahue's father was on a Billie Holiday record.
Quotations
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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