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The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks

The Vexations (edition 2019)

by Caitlin Horrocks (Author)

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363486,232 (3.93)2
A "marvelous" (Wall Street Journal), "enthralling" (New York Times Book Review) debut novel about love, family, genius, and the madness of art, circling the life of eccentric composer Erik Satie and La Belle Époque Paris Erik Satie begins life with every possible advantage. But after the dual blows of his mother's early death and his father's breakdown upend his childhood, Erik and his younger siblings -- Louise and Conrad -- are scattered. Later, as an ambitious young composer, Erik flings himself into the Parisian art scene, aiming for greatness but achieving only notoriety. As the years, then decades, pass, he alienates those in his circle as often as he inspires them, lashing out at friends and lovers like Claude Debussy and Suzanne Valadon. Only Louise and Conrad are steadfast allies. Together they strive to maintain their faith in their brother's talent and hold fast the badly frayed threads of family. But in a journey that will take her from Normandy to Paris to Argentina, Louise is rocked by a severe loss that ultimately forces her into a reckoning with how Erik -- obsessed with his art and hungry for fame -- will never be the brother she's wished for. With her buoyant, vivid reimagination of an iconic artist's eventful life, Caitlin Horrocks has written a captivating and ceaselessly entertaining novel about the tenacious bonds of family and the costs of greatness, both to ourselves and to those we love.… (more)
Title:The Vexations
Authors:Caitlin Horrocks (Author)
Info:Little, Brown and Company (2019), 464 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks



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The pacing is slow but the writing is lovely, and the book as a whole is very sweet, if a bit shaggy at times. The characters, Erik Satie and his family and a few people in his orbit ("friends" isn't quite the word) are often obtuse even to themselves and able to connect only in small explosions of affection (except for younger brother Conrad, who is the steadfast rudder of everyone's lives). Still, they're sweet in spite of—or maybe because of—their essential sadnesses. Mothers and sons don't fare well here, although not for lack of love. The final part in sister Louise's voice, about how the dead brush against you softly like fur, is worth the price of admission alone—particularly the passage where she has a clerk in a department store take out all the fur coats and walks among them, just to commune: "Hello ghosts. You are so, so soft."

It's worth having Satie's music in your head when you open the book, even just the Gymnopédies—and if you think you're not familiar with them you're probably wrong. Give them a listen on YouTube. They're very nice and an effective soundtrack to the entire novel. ( )
2 vote lisapeet | Dec 12, 2019 |
This is the story of Erik Satie, a French composer who began as a cabaret piano player and became a somewhat famous composer of avant-garde music. His mother died when he was very young and he and his younger sister, Louise, and brother, Conrad were sent to live with relatives. The various chapters in this book are told from the viewpoint of Erik, Louise and Conrad as well as a friend, a poet named Phillippe.

I loved the idea of this book, but honestly could never quite get a handle on the characters. I believe the women characters were much easier believed than the men. The book is long and sometimes confusing but maybe just my lack of interest. ( )
  maryreinert | Nov 24, 2019 |
On February 18, 2018, we attended the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's French Festival to hear Claude Debussy's orchestration of Erik Satie's Gymnopédies Nos.1 & 3 along with music by Dukas, Saint-Saens, and Offenbach.

I had not realized previously how much I loved French music! I wanted to attend every one of the concerts. The two Gymnopedies were the only music by Satie performed during the festival--only because Debussy had orchestrated them. The music Satie wrote before he was twenty-two-years-old is his best known. Reading Caitlin Horrocks' debut novel The Vexations I realized how little I knew about French composers and La Belle Époque Paris.

The Vexations centers on the life of the composer Erik Satie (1866-1925), bringing to life Paris's Bohemian society of eccentric and cutting-edge artists.

The novel also tells the story of Erik's siblings, separated as orphans after their mother's death. Conrad Satie leads a respectable life as a chemist in a perfume factory. Louise is a talented musician whose short-lived marriage leaves her and her son dependent on her in-law's wealth.

Erik is a frustrating personality, an eccentric genius who would not be shoved into expected boxes artistically or socially. People didn't understand his music. His love affair with Susan Valadon lasted six months. He did not really seem to connect to people or need intimacy. During his life he was notorious. By the time of his death, his family and even most of his friends were no longer speaking with him.

In later life, Satie was associated with Surrealism, including writing music for the Ballets Russe, Parade directed by Cocteau with Picasso costumes.

I became very taken by Louise Satie's story, the limitations society placed on a female. Pressured to marry well, she waited for passion. And when she found herself a young widow, one night of passion labeled her a whore. She clung to her son, but the legal system gave his custody to male relatives. She moved to South American and outlived the rest of her family, long enough to discover her brother Erik had become famous, long enough to understand life.

Satie's most well-known music remains the Gymnopieds.

The novel has left me with an earworm, sadness, and a better feel for the society and time that produced some of my favorite music.

After I finished the novel I discovered Horrocks is a writing instructor at Grand Valley State University. And that our son, who graduated from GVSU with a writing major, counted her as one of his best and most favorite professors!

I was given access to a free ebook by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. ( )
  nancyadair | Jul 2, 2019 |
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