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The Bells by Richard Harvell
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The Bells (2010)

by Richard Harvell

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18th century (12) 2010 (9) ARC (10) Austria (11) bells (3) boys (3) castrati (11) castration (3) Early Reviewers (3) ebook (7) fiction (40) historical (11) historical fiction (45) Italy (5) love (4) monks (11) music (14) musico (3) novel (4) opera (12) read in 2010 (7) read in 2011 (8) read in 2012 (4) singers (4) singing (5) Switzerland (14) to-read (19) unowned (2) unread (4) Vienna (7)
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» See also 56 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
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!

( )
  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 |
Moses Froben, an opera singer of world-renown, raised a son who could not possibly have been his own. When his son asked how they had come to be together, Moses would studiously avoid the question. On Moses's death, however, his son found a memoir that told of Moses's humble beginnings and how father and son found each other.

The side of me that loves dark, convoluted, Gothic stories absolutely loved this book! A mother widely believed to be mad, an evil father, life with monks, and love against all odds just add up to the perfect read when I am in the right mood. And I was in the right mood for this one.

Gothic doesn't feel like exactly the right word to describe this book, but melodramatic has a negative connotation, at least to me, so I'm going to stick with Gothic.

Moses is a sensitive soul, and I found myself wanting to protect him in his childhood years. As he grew up and started to go after what he wanted, I was firmly on his side, cheering him on through everything.

I won't get into the supporting characters too much for fear of giving something away, but I even loved and loathed them as I was supposed to. I will give you this quote about a bookish monk*: "And sure enough, the next Thursday, when Nicolai had fetched me from rehearsal and scrubbed my face and combed my hair, there stood Remus, dressed in hat and cloak and carrying a satchel full of books as though we would be traveling for many days, as if running out of books were tantamount to running out of air." Who among us can't relate to that? And they were only going to be away for a couple of hours!

Moses' descriptions of sounds and music were a feast for all the senses. "Guadagni waved his hands as he sang, his long fingers describing ebbs and swells just as his voice did. In its delicate moments, he held me rigid as I strained to hear, and then, in its massive moments, I felt as if I might collapse under the force of his voice's brilliance. Guadagni gazed toward a corner of the room, and I saw in his eyes that there was his Eurydice, soon to be his again. Find her! the music said to me. Find her! It swept away any fear that lingered in the shadows of my soul. Warm tears stained my now-clean face."*

But mostly this story is about love. Motherly love, fatherly love, passionate love--love in all its forms. While I would never describe myself as being a fan of romances, I am a sucker for stories with such pure love in them.

If you're in the mood for a Gothic novel with a big voice, pick this one up. I think you'll love it.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy for review.

*I read an ARC, so this quote might have changed or been removed from the final edition. ( )
  JG_IntrovertedReader | Apr 3, 2013 |
The early chapters of THE BELLS, when Moses is a child who lives with his mother in a tiny town deep in the Swiss Alps, are gorgeous and savage - as here: "It is early summer, and the Alps are so verdant that one envies the cows their grasses, and would like to stoop down beside them and feast until green drool dribbles down one's chin." And the early events of the novel are harrowing, too - Moses must listen while his deaf and mute mother is raped by the local priest - his father - and, because she cannot speak, she cannot tell anyone what has been done to her. When he is old enough to talk, the priest recognizes how dangerous Moses' words would be, and tries to drown him in a raging river.

But Moses is plucked from the river by a pair of kindly monks, one of whom immediately takes a solemn vow to protect Moses for the rest of his life. And this more or less sets the pattern for the remainder of the book: whenever events get too difficult, an unbelievable deus ex machina appears to solve everything. When the Abbot wants to send Moses to the nearest orphanage, a supremely talented choir conductor appears out of nowhere, having recognized Moses' musical talent from a bit of harmonic humming, and demands that Moses be his pupil. When Moses is finally cast out of the monastery, full grown and perfectly trained, he wanders homeless to Vienna. Dirty, dressed in rags, he is lost - until one of the city's leading musicians pulls Moses into his carriage, having mistaken him for another, famous singer, tells him his filth is an excellent disguise, and immediately takes him to the singer's home, where the composer Gluck is waiting, getting ready to stage his first-ever production of Orpheus and Eurydice. So, with only a few hiccups, Moses finds himself well fed, well dressed, and in the company of exactly the right people.

THE BELLS is structured in a way that echoes Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice. Moses is Orpheus, and his Eurydice is a woman far beyond his reach: Amelia, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Their love takes center stage in the book while Moses is growing up at the monastery. They love in secret, because they are so far apart in social status, but Amelia's heart is pure. However, meddling relatives want her to get married, and they make her believe that Moses has died to convince her to accept a Viennese count. This marriage is Amelia's descent into hell, from which Moses must rescue her. However, just as Orpheus cannot save Eurydice, so Moses cannot save Amelia: by the time he reaches her, she is pregnant with her husband's child, and soon dies in childbirth.

I loved THE BELLS when I started reading, but not at the end. The author has amazing talent, but the deus ex machina plot points leech tension from the story. It's hard to be afraid for Moses when it's obvious that, even if things seem really horrible, the perfect solution will arrive in a page or two. At first, the book grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let me go; it was thrilling. But by the end, and especially once it was clear that the novel was echoing the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, events were easy to predict and felt inevitable rather than exciting. ( )
  MlleEhreen | Apr 3, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:41 -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)

» see all 4 descriptions

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