Natasha Solomon’s fourth novel provides my introduction to her work. It is a novel about music, which can be a hit or miss affair in fiction but here it works extremely well. Central to the plot is Hartgrove Hall, a country house, which at the earliest chronological spot of the story, November 1946, is being reclaimed by the Fox-Talbot family after being requisitioned by the military during the war. This has left it neglected, beginning a decline which will see the next generation striving to turn back.
The youngest of the three Fox-Talbot sons, Harry, is a “song collector”, a music fanatic determined to catalogue every folk song he encounters. The house becomes a springboard for his musical achievements when he composes a symphony in tribute to it which establishes his career. The narrative follows two timeframes, the second being Harry’s attempts to get his life back on track following the death of his wife, Edie, a wartime singer of great repute, who we first meet as his older brother’s girlfriend. The earlier strand is a love story as to how Harry and Edie got together and their attempts to save Hartgrove Hall. It is also very much a love-song to music itself. This provides Harry’s redemption, his means of keeping hopes of retaining his home alive and also with his musically-gifted grandson it provides his chance to celebrate Edie and to pick up some of the pieces following her demise.
Solomons is a gifted writer. This is a confident, mature piece with both music and the old house conjuring up an air of yearning which is strong throughout. There was a point when I noted the unusual occurrence for me of favouring the modern narrative strand rather than the post-war years. (Normally with this type of book I relish the earlier years and tolerate the more modern strand). I did become engrossed in the relationship between grandfather and grandson and felt a little disappointed when it switched back to Harry and Edie’s earlier love triangle. Having said this all aspects of the novel are highly satisfactory. It is very close to a five star read, but it does look like in 2017 I’m going to be just as stingy at giving them out. A five star book is assured of a permanent place on my bookshelves so with space limited has to really blow me away. I do sense that Natasha Solomons has a five star book within her (perhaps in her back catalogue, “Mr Rosenblaum’s List” seems highly appraised) or with her next work but for me it just misses out on the ultimate accolade this time round.
“The Song Collector” has been shortlisted for the Bookhugger Book Of The Year over at Nudge books. Take a look to see the other nominations and if this is your favourite read of the year vote for Natasha Solomons You have until 10th February to register your vote.
The Song Collector was published in hardback in 2015 and in paperback by Sceptre in March 2016.