This is going to be a synopsis free review because at the end of this typing bonanza I'm going to give you a spoiler laden, brief synopsis of some of the action.
This was a book that as soon as it was offered to me, I got a little giddy. The description sounded like something I would love to get lost in:
From the smoky music halls of 1860s Paris to the tumbling skyscrapers of twenty-first-century New York, Gallaway imparts the sweeping tale of an unlikely quartet, bound together by the strange and spectacular history of Richard Wagner’s masterpiece opera Tristan and Isolde.
When my regular (and rather cute) UPS guy delivered the book to me I will admit to feeling a great sense of anticipation for what I was about to discover. I couldn't wait for the moment I would crack the page and discover these characters that are about to have their lives intertwined by one of the best pieces of music ever composed. I was expecting something grand and epic, a story of four people whose stories would captivate me and sweep me away into their lives. Instead I was treated to four rather dull characters that while I could tolerate three of them, the fourth was just boring for me. Now, I'm going to say right now that my feelings for these characters are subjective and I can totally understand why someone else would love them from the get go.
The story, if you couldn't tell already, revolves around four main characters. Martin is a 40 something gay lawyer living in New York City. He doesn't really seem to be doing anything with his life and I think like a lot of people has found himself living in a rut. To be honest, other than the fact that he was overweight and would be considered a "bear" in gay slang, I really don't remember all that much about him. If found his sections of the book to be the dullest and I found myself having to force myself away from skimming the pages.
Maria, as she is first introduced to us in the 80s, is a tall girl who is called Morticia by her classmates, not in a nice way. The only interesting thing about her, other than her sulkiness and normal teen angst, is that fact she has a naturally beautiful operatic voice that is just waiting to be discovered.
We are introduced to Anna as she is about to come into the height of her fame as an opera singer. She has finally been given a chance to shine and she takes it by the horns. She is one of two characters that I actually got to like during the course of the book, which follows parts of her life from the 70s through 2002. Of all the characters she is the one that seems to change the most during her life and the one that ties Martin and Maria together.
The fourth character Lucien, a young man who wants nothing more to take to the stage and perform like his mother did before she passed away. Now he is growing up in Nineteenth century Europe so he is around for when Tristan and Isolde is performed for the first time, he's actually in it. He is the other character that I really enjoyed, well except for the ending (but that's an entirely different issue altogether). We get to experience his growth into a great singer and his falling in love or the first time. He is the only character that I felt had any real emotion come off the page, especially when his lover commits suicide after the opera house he was building was slated for demolition.
So now that I've sort of introduced you to the characters, let me tell you my biggest problem with this book. If you don't want to read any spoilers, please stop reading now, because I'm about to tell you a lot of what happens in the book. The way their lives were tied together took too much of a leap of faith for me. You see when Lucien goes back home to Paris after his lover's suicide his father, who has been working on a elixir to extend life, dies as a result of an experiment, Lucien drinks the elixir and then continues to live his life to present day.
In the 70s he met Anna, slept with her, got her pregnant, and faked his own death. Anna then gave up her children (fraternal twins) for adoption and never thought much of them until she judges Maria in a singing competition. From there Anna just assumes that it's her daughter but never tells her. Instead she ushers her into Julliard (after the adoptive parents die in a house fire during the audition) and supports her career over the next decade and a half.
Sometime during this time, Maria meets Martin and they sleep together. Who cares that Martin is gay, he just couldn't help himself and it happened. I forgot to mention that around the same time that Maria's adoptive family died in the house fire, Martin's adoptive parents died in a car accident. Years later Martin and Maria meet again through a mutual friend, Leo (who just happens to be Lucien). Anna is on her way to meet up with them when she spots Martin and realizes that he is her son. She dies and Leo (Lucien) tells them the truth about himself. The End. (Plus End Of Major Spoilers)
Other than the fact that this story is beautifully written and that the author truly does have a lyrical quality that I found captivating to read, I just couldn't buy the story. The whole elixir of life aspect just confused the story more than it needed. I know the author wanted to tie all these characters together by blood, but couldn't Lucien have been related to them some other way. I'm not going to even get into the whole accidental incest thing because I've seen it done in ways that were more necessary to the book than this one was. I just didn't get the point of it. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I just found this story to be a little too messy for me. I plan on reading the author's next book though because his writing style kept me reading despite how I felt about the story itself. I almost feel as if I should apologize for not liking the book as much as I wanted to. I'm not sure I've ever felt that way about another book before. I guess it's because I really did like the way the author wrote the book.
I want to thank Lisa of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book and I would encourage everyone to visit the tour page and read other reviews on this one. I'm sure I'm going to be in the minority on this one so please take the time to find out what others though of it.
I would also encourage you to visit Matthew Gallaway's web site as well as his blog.