Monday, August 29, 2011
book review: Stabat Mater by Tiziano Scarpa
The power of music to change lives is well documented but when the life is so damaged and bereft of love the chance for the sounds to do more is perhaps even more heightened. That is the case here as the story of a 16 year-old orphan being raised by nuns unfolds. She has been taught the violin but not taught to love, think or understand the world around her but that changes with the arrival of Vivaldi.
As he uses his music to conjure up the seasons and to draw out of the audience thoughts of the sea, feuding lovers and nature in all its glory he opens the minds of his young players and sparks off a friendship with the focus of the story Cecile.
She is a complicated girl that shares her experiences with the reader in the form of a series of letter to the mother she never knew, the same mother who left her abandoned to be found by the nuns at the orphanage. As she spends her nights writing to her mother in the darkness she is joined by imaginary companions like the snake headed lady who she sees as representing death.
What strikes you as her letters tell of her daily struggle to find some sort of happiness is just how lonely she is and how deep the hole that her absent mother has left in her life. Until Vivaldi turns up with something different even the music she plays so magnificently on her violin cannot distract her from the misery of the convent.
But when that music is unleashed and the challenge to her as a person to live and make a mark in the world is given to her by Vivaldi it is one that she takes providing the reader with perhaps the best evidence that music really can change a person's world.
Written in chunks without chapters this has a lyrical almost dreamlike quality. Sometimes, just as the main character struggles to remember what happened in a dream or for real, so the reader finds themselves wondering where the boundaries lie. But that is a good thing and not frustrating because you know that the effect is to reinforce that you can only imagine but never quite grasp what happens behind the closed convent doors or behind the masks the violin players are forced to wear in public.
Thought provoking and for one of the first times had me going straight from last page to stereo to crank up the four seasons. This lives on if you embrace it in the music and the thoughts that you could allow yourself to have.