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The Bells by Richard Harvell

The Bells (2010)

by Richard Harvell

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In a time when the church was the centre of every town and the bells called the faithful to worship, Moses Froben was born in a bellfry to a deaf/mute mother. The circumstances of Moses’ birth are as mysterious as the story he is telling his son about his own conception. The narration takes us from the point of Moses’ expulsion from his village, to his rescue and life in a monastary, through to Vienna and his success as a singer. Unfortunately, everything comes at a cost and Moses unwillingly pays the highest price for the gift of his voice … he is made a castrati.

I have heard this book described as “reading an opera", and although I am not an opera fan I can definitely see the comparisons. The compelling story which leads to moments of extreme happiness and moments of heartwrenching despair. An aria sung by a soprano and an orchestral crescendo would be most appropriate at those moments.
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  ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
I have to say, this one was pretty interesting. There were a few places that got me a bit bogged down, but I think I was held back a bit by my fear that it was going to become an icky "Catholic men molest the kid" story. Which it wasn't, and once that became clear, I read pretty quickly.

As a musician, I found this engaging, but I was also impressed with the historical detail and enjoyed the characters, particularly Nicholai and Gaudagni. ( )
  fefferbooks | May 12, 2014 |
Meh. This one was good enough, but nothing amazing. ( )
  erelsi183 | Nov 18, 2013 |
This is a GREAT book that could end up a modern classic of historical fiction. The plot follows a young boy with exceptional hearing who uses this skill to become an almost supernaturally-gifted choral singer.

Harvell takes us from the rural Switzerland of the 1700s to the slums, concert halls, and courts of Vienna. The road is paved with the stuff of grand ficton: menace, loss, heatbreak, redemption, art, faith, friendship, family... Yeah, ALL of that! And with such a sure hand that you would never guess that this is a debut.

I compare the read to one of my favorites: Patrick Suskind's PERFUME... not just because of some thematic similarities but also because of the depth of language, character, and general gravitas.

Read this one.
I mean it!

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  JohnHastie | Apr 5, 2013 |
The Bells is about the castrated son of a deaf-mute bell-ringer who becomes a musico. It turns out the boy, Moses, has an unusual auditory gift that enables him to hear sounds in true resonance. The story juxtaposes the sublime against the barbaric; but the payoff for the tough, tense passages are the glorious triumphs expressed in the music. The story is set in 1760-ish Vienna and features the music of Dufay, Vivaldi, Charpentier and Gluck among others. Even though you read about music, the music itself can be heard through the pages and in that way it's a very "tactile" book (And yes, there's a description of an opera that brought me to tears.) ( )
  Tanya-dogearedcopy | Apr 4, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
One of the most difficult feats Harvell accomplishes in "The Bells" is capturing the physical experience of music. It warms necks and backs, resonates in jaws and temples, and rings in chests and legs. Music fights with death, seduces a woman, guides a thief and ultimately triumphs in love.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307590526, Hardcover)

I grew up as the son of a man who could not possibly have been my father. Though there was never any doubt that my seed had come from another man, Moses Froben, Lo Svizzero, called me “son.” And I called him “father.” On the rare occasions when someone dared to ask for clarification, he simply laughed as though the questioner were obtuse. “Of course he’s not my son!” he would say. “Don’t be ridiculous.” 

But whenever I myself gained the courage to ask him further of our past, he just looked sadly at me. “Please, Nicolai,” he would say after a moment, as though we had made a pact I had forgotten. With time, I came to understand I would never know the secrets of my birth, for my father was the only one who knew these secrets, and he would take them to his grave.

The celebrated opera singer Lo Svizzero was born in a belfry high in the Swiss Alps where his mother served as the keeper of the loudest and most beautiful bells in the land. Shaped by the bells’ glorious music, as a boy he possessed an extraordinary gift for sound. But when his preternatural hearing was discovered—along with its power to expose the sins of the church—young Moses Froben was cast out of his village with only his ears to guide him in a world fraught with danger.
Rescued from certain death by two traveling monks, he finds refuge at the vast and powerful Abbey of St. Gall. There, his ears lead him through the ancient stone hallways and past the monks’ cells into the choir, where he aches to join the singers in their strange and enchanting song. Suddenly Moses knows his true gift, his purpose. Like his mother’s bells, he rings with sound and soon, he becomes the protégé of the Abbey’s brilliant yet repulsive choirmaster, Ulrich.
But it is this gift that will cause Moses’ greatest misfortune: determined to preserve his brilliant pupil’s voice, Ulrich has Moses castrated. Now a young man, he will forever sing with the exquisite voice of an angel—a musico—yet castration is an abomination in the Swiss Confederation, and so he must hide his shameful condition from his friends and even from the girl he has come to love. When his saviors are exiled and his beloved leaves St. Gall for an arranged marriage in Vienna, he decides he can deny the truth no longer and he follows her—to sumptuous Vienna, to the former monks who saved his life, to an apprenticeship at one of Europe’s greatest theaters, and to the premiere of one of history’s most beloved operas.
In this confessional letter to his son, Moses recounts how his gift for sound led him on an astonishing journey to Europe’s celebrated opera houses and reveals the secret that has long shadowed his fame: How did Moses Froben, world renowned musico, come to raise a son who by all rights he never could have sired?
Like the voice of Lo Svizzero, The Bells is a sublime debut novel that rings with passion, courage, and beauty.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:31 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Born in an eighteenth-century Swiss Alps community where his mother was the keeper of the church bells, illegitimate youth Moses Froben is cast out by his self-serving father and seeks refuge in the historic Abbey of St. Gall, where he discovers his purpose in life through his singing.… (more)

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