Sight Reading: A Novel

Sight Reading: A Novel
By Daphne Kalotay
Harper Collins; 324 pages
A review by R. C. Speck

A symphony becomes a plot device, and a violin solo a literary conceit, in Sight Reading, the latest novel from award-winning novelist Daphne Kalotay. The classic love triangle gets the Classical music treatment from Kalotay when Nicholas, the introspective and brilliant composer, is forced to choose between Hazel, his beautiful wife and mother of his child, and the free-spirited violinist Remy. Set in Boston, Sight Reading focuses on how these characters keep looking back to their own histories as they tend to their lonely, roving hearts. Weddings, divorces, affairs, secrets, lies, confessions, and music, lots of music…it’s all in there.

Remy wants to live like Oscar Wilde, but she also forces herself to the painful limits of her technical ability on the violin. Hazel keeps seeing her own doppelgänger before pivotal moments in her life and wonders if she is losing her mind. Meanwhile Nicholas, a world-renowned composer, struggles with his great symphony for nearly twenty years. He’s trying to capture the spontaneity and passion in his work that he once witnessed during a Gypsy street concert in his youth.

Kalotay gives us much technical information on the violin, especially during Remy’s rehearsals and lessons with Conrad Lesser, a world-famous teacher of the violin. Who knew how brutal that instrument can be on the shoulder and wrists when you take it seriously? Who knew how maddening it can be when you are sight-reading an excruciatingly difficult solo piece, and your teacher tosses the sheet music to the floor, forcing you to deal with it in real time, forcing you to improvise?

Kalotay delves deepest with Nicholas. Absent-minded to the people who love him, he slowly loses them one by one. Finishing that symphony is what he needs to do to become whole again, and he discovers he has to go to some pretty dangerous places, literally and emotionally, to do this.

Will Nicholas, Hazel, and Remy free themselves from past betrayals and broken hearts, or will they get lost in the romantic complications they’ve created for themselves? And will their common love for music save them in the end? These are some of the themes Daphne Kalotay has taken on in Sight Reading.

This book review appeared in the winter 2013–14 issue of Quarter Notes, the member magazine of WCPE Radio, The Classical Station. To receive a subscription, become a member today!

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