Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Song of Hartgrove Hall

Title:  The Song of Hartgrove Hall
Author:  Natasha Solomons
Publication Information:  Plume. 2015. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0147517591 / 978-0147517593

Book Source: I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Edie sang at her own funeral."

Favorite Quote:  "If grief is the thug who punches you in the gut, then loneliness is his goon who holds back your arms and renders you helpless before the onslaught."

The Song of Hartgrove Hall is the song of Harry Fox-Talbot, the youngest of the three Fox-Talbot brothers. World War II has ended, and the family - the General and his three sons Jack, George and Harry - are returning home to Hartgrove Hall.

Hartgrove Hall in Dorset, England is the grand estate, abused and neglected during World War II and now back in the hands of a family who don't have the means to restore it or even maintain it. The descriptions of the Hall and the woods around it all conjure up vivid images. In its setting and structure, the book reminds me of Kate Morton's books. This book is not as Gothic nor as much as a mystery as some of Kate Morton's books, but the sense of place is definitely similar.

For the Fox-Talbot boys, Hartgrove Hall is home and heritage. Jack is the golden boy, his father's inheritor and the one who seems beloved by all and who seems always at the center of the party. George is the quiet, retiring one. Harry is the youngest and the one whose dream is to pursue music. Amidst these gentlemen is Edie Rose, a beautiful, popular singer with a past all her own.

In the beautiful but decrepit setting of Hartgrove Hall, some fall in love. Some sacrifice for those they love. Some sacrifice to save the home they love. Decisions are made, and consequences follow.

Fast forwards decades later. A Fox-Talbot brother still lives at Hartgrove Hall and mourns the recent loss of his wife Edie. Life seems to hold no joy until he discovers his grandson's affinity for music. Four year old Robin, it appears, is a piano prodigy.

Back and forth, back and forth, the book traverses past and present, putting the story together bit by bit. The past and the present really form two separate stories tied together by the main character and the music. The present day story is one of grief, family, and a child. The past is the story of a self-centered young man, who pursues what he wants without much regard for others. In the present day, his loss and his love for his grandchild elicit sympathy. In the story of the past, his self-absorbed actions elicit sorrow for those who love him. Both stories carry a love of and an education in music and the art of song collecting as a preservation of history.

For me, the emotion and reaction is the piece missing from the book. The fact of the story is that two people build their own happiness on betraying the life and joy of a third person - a person they both claim to love. This issue is in many ways at the heart of this book, but at the same time is not really dealt with. The emotional impact of that betrayal is nowhere to be found in this book. As a result, the story feels incomplete. I keep waiting for more - more of a struggle, more of a conflict, more emotion, but it never comes - not in the story of the past and not in its present day conclusion. I keep reading because the book feels as if it is building to an emotional moment. I enjoy the build up but am left unsatisfied by the conclusion for the emotion never comes.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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