Thursday, May 24, 2012

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly, who resides in upstate New York, writes very engaging historical fiction.  Prior  to my reading Revolution, I had read a previous novel of hers, A Northern Light, which takes the Theodore Dreiser story An American Tragedy and changes the narrator to a female teenager working in an Adirondack boarding house.  Do you know this story?  In the early 20th century, Chester Gillette was convicted of murdering his pregnant lover Grace Brown and was put to death in the electric chair.  The novel was also adapted into a film, A Place in the Sun, starring, among others, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff.  You know it's a good story when books are still being inspired by it a century later.  Check that one out, too.

But, on to Revolution... Andi, a seriously depressed, Brooklyn teenager trying to survive the loss of her younger brother,  is the narrator of this novel which alternates between the 18th century French Revolution and contemporary Paris.  Andi is a gifted musician who depends upon her guitar to retain her precarious grasp on life.  Her suicidal state of mind is addressed with powerful medication, both pharmaceutical and musical, and the descriptions of both "drugs" are boldly honest.  I was struck by the following description of a very familiar, to me, Pink Floyd song:   "...a moody guitar comes in, there's a pause, and then four notes, clear and stunning: B-flat, F, G, E....David Gilmour got sadness down in four notes." 

The novel contains countless musical references beyond Shine on You Crazy Diamond.  As I was reading I was continually impressed with the author's knowledge of music from a wide array of genres - classical, pop, hip-hop, rap, traditional and others.  The musical descriptions were informative and added to the sensory stimulation present in the work. As someone who knows very little about the French Revolution, I found the history component to be really interesting, particularly the descriptions of the catacombs in Paris and the daily life of the royal family.  Despite her negative reputation, Marie Antoinette was portrayed with sympathy.  She may have been a shallow, spoiled woman but in this novel we are reminded that she was also a mother who has suffered the loss of numerous children.

A little history, a little mystery, some music and romance...sounds like a good summer read, friends. 

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