Print Review: Vienna Nocturne

Vienna Nocturne

Vienna Nocturne
By Vivien Shotwell
Penguin Random House | Ballantine Books
Hardcover: February 25, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-345-53637-2
HISTORICAL FICTION

Vienna Nocturne is a novel that traces the career and relationships of the 18th-century soprano Anna Storace as she moves from England to Naples, and then to Vienna. The primary focus of the story is Anna’s intimate relationship with Mozart, who would create the role of Susanna in his opera buffa, Le Nozze di Figaro for her to act & sing. Shotwell’s knowledge of opera, the basics of Anna’s life as well as the rumors that circulated the young star are not to be denied; but the lushness of the settings, the passions of Anna’s various love affairs, and the richness of the musical culture are all oddly muted by stilted writing and a naive approach to matters of the heart.

• Passages are composed of short, simple sentences that offer nothing in the way of lyricism or poignancy.
• There is a lack of transitional grace. At some points, years lapse between chapters, in others only days – which creates an arhythmic pace as well as a vacuum in which the texture of the story could have been enriched.
• The application of artistic license (e.g. fudging the time lines) was used to advance the less credible aspects of Anna’s life, while the known facts of her life were left in the background. As extraordinary as Anna’s life was, and as rich fodder that could have been for Shotwell’s narrative, the author chose to feed into the rumors instead.
• At the same time, there are many opportunities for the imagination to take flight, but such chances seem to be tethered by overly conscious nods to historicity via exposition. It was if the author was saying that we couldn’t take the fictional aspects too far as, after all, these were real people.
• Finally, the novel lacks inherent tension: Villainy and adversity, as well Anna’s triumphs, run second to the melodrama each extreme creates, and as a result neither functions as the whetstone by which the other can be sharpened.

At the most basic level, the story provides some interesting color for the era; but fails to elicit sympathy for any of the characters, or engage in the fulsomeness of either Vienna or Anna’s life.

OTHER: I received a hardback edition (finished copy) of Vienna Nocturne (by Vivien Shotwell) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program on March 25, 2014. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

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