The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is really about 4.33 stars, with just a few little things keeping it from 5 stars in my view.
The story is intense. The book starts with three bodies, and then jumps you into the story a year or so earlier to explain how they got to that point. By the time I got back to that point, I'd forgotten the bodies in the beginning, and it was horrifying all over again.
The Bellwethers are a family living in Cambridge, where their children are college-aged. Eden, the oldest, is the organist at King's College, but possesses some strange beliefs about himself and the power of music. His beliefs are largely based on the writings of an obscure Baroque composer, Johann Mattheson, who the reader is introduced to very early on, as Eden is completely obsessed with him.
Iris Bellwether is studying medicine because her father wants her to. One night she catches Oscar, the protagonist, listening to the organ at King's College, and pulls him into her life. Oscar is a much lower class than the Bellwethers, and works at a nursing home.
There were a few moments where I was caught off guard. The novel is not obviously modern, until you consider the history of psychoanalysis and the time they would have to be in to know what they know. I hadn't really thought about it until someone mentions getting an e-mail address, and I was completely taken out of the story for a while, having to re-frame everything. Maybe it is because I've listened to The Talented Mr. Ripley too recently, but I had the Bellwethers in that same era. Regardless, they are old-money, private-school, coddled characters, which I suppose can happen in any era. Eden is eccentric; Iris is aloof, and Oscar is left trying to find his way through the situations.
The added layer of the nursing home was interesting, and grounding. The importance of music drew me in the most, and I felt I learned a lot that I didn't know about historical musical aesthetics. The author has a nice list of books for further reference in the back, which makes me believe this is a well-researched novel. I also learned the word petrichor; look it up and you will be as impressed by the English language as Iris was.
"Mattheson took Descartes's ideas and applied them to music. In Capellmeister, he basically lays down a set of instructions for composers, to show them how to induce certain emotions through their work - to achieve that empire over the passions Descartes was talking about."
"I look at my son and I think, have I raised someone exceptional or someone abnormal?"