Last time I read a novel by Daphne Kalotay, I raved about it. So my expectations were set fairly high when I picked up her more recent novel recently. It was published in 2013, but I'm going to call it a new release anyway.
Sight Reading is a novel about relationships, which happens to be set in Boston, USA, and in the context of the classical music scene. It takes a journey through three separate periods in the characters' lives, slowly unravelling the ways in which they develop, pull apart and come together again.
Nicholas Elko is a talented conductor and composer who is going places. He comes to Boston with his wife Hazel and their young daughter Jessica in 1987, to take up a new job in the conservatory. He meets Remy, the young, determined violin student - and they overwhelm each other. Suddenly, the Elko family is broken up.
The novel is a story of how these relationships adapt over time. How does a family learn to cope with functioning as separate units? With sharing custody and the love of a child? How will Hazel come to terms with the change in her situation which was no fault of her own, and how will she function, forced to remain on acceptable terms with her ex-husband and his new wife for the sake of their child? What happens when Nicholas and Remy become used to each other and all their flaws? What happens when they face their own disappointments and failings?
It is also a story that is interwoven with creativity and people who are creative in different ways (but most particularly in music). As Nicholas gains more and more critical and popular acclaim, he continues to work on his symphony which he knows will be a masterpiece but which never quite seems to become coherent.
In the end, this is a story that explores the complicated meaning of family and how it can expand and contract painfully, but ultimately beautifully. It explores the way in which art gives voice to and reflects things that words cannot express.
Sight Reading is very well-written and readable, and the denouément comes strongly and smoothly just when it is necessary. I normally find books with such sudden leaps in timing more difficult to read, but this moved along smoothly and masterfully. I have to admit, however, that at times I skipped over passages, particularly descriptions of music that I had no way of hearing.
It was nice to see the author trying her hand at a story with less epic drama than her last novel (Russian Winter) but just as much human interest. The characters were quite well-rounded and vivid, and the story was engrossing. I liked how the perspectives changed, and you saw how different people misunderstood each other.
Something wasn't entirely there, however. I wonder if the characters were all too talented and creative? Is it really normal to only have friends that do interesting and magical things? I suppose it might be that way if you work in a music conservatory, but it just felt like normal people were missing somewhere... I also found myself wondering quite often where the story was going, and what the purpose of some of its elements were. Sometimes this became clear, and yet sometimes it did not.
I do think this was a very good book. I wouldn't rate it as highly as Russian Winter but that's not saying much, given that I gave Russian Winter my highest rating ever. It's the kind of book that you won't regret reading, I would think, and it definitely gave me some thoughts to mull over. I liked it very much.