Silly Summer Reading: “The Chopin Manuscript”: UPDATED

August 22, 2010 by Mona Seghatoleslami

I’ll admit it – I picked this novel up just because of the musical connection.

I couldn’t resist the lure of deadly secrets hidden in musical manuscripts, a tense car-jacking to the sounds of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” on the radio, and musicologists and piano tuners as starring characters.

Here’s one of my favorite lines from the book:

“Like the assault of the sudden vehement chord in Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, fear struck the piano tuner.”

Are you smiling or groaning?  Both?

Beyond being a musical thriller, “The Chopin Manuscript” has an unusual concept. It’s a collaborative novel, with chapters by 15 different authors. Jeffrey Deaver wrote three chapters — one at the beginning and two providing the conclusion — while each other writer only penned one.  I’m not familiar with any of these authors, but friends say that they are a big deal. I am outside my traditional genres here (science fiction and fantasy).

While I wasn’t too bothered by changes in style, I did get a bit lost in the number of characters and the continual plot twists. Probably because of all these complications, I never became very attached to any of the characters – one author would set up Faust as a villain, another as a secret hero, and then the following writers would flip him back and forth a few times (no, I’m not telling you where they landed).

Someone asked me if this book was “’The DaVinci Code’ of classical music.”  I am happy to report that it is not. It’s a much more lighthearted endeavor, with no grand important narrative or point to prove, which is refreshing. But I do still wish it was a bit more coherent.

The audiobook version, read by Alfred Molina, has won several awards. I plan to give it a listen soon.  It might make it even harder to keep track of all the characters, but it could also be a lot of fun.

“The Chopin Manuscript” is available at the Kanawha County Public Library on CD and as a large-print book.

UPDATE: Editor’s Note: For some more musical book suggestions, check out Mona’s post at the Classically Speaking blog on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s website.

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