Katharine Weber   The Music Lesson  
Katharine Weber    
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The Music Lesson: an excerpt

  The Music Lesson is a surprising novel that both enacts and embodies seemingly opposite realms of life. What could be more disparate than a lyrical meditation on the quiet pleasures of 17th Century Dutch art, and a tense, gripping plot of Irish politics, theft and murder? What indeed, could seem more contradictory than a woman who has modeled her life on the frozen, distant qualities in works of Vermeer suddenly becoming involved with a passionate radical Irishman plotting to steal her favorite painting?

The Music Lesson is told in the form of a diary written by Patricia Dolan while she is alone in a primitive cottage in a small Irish village, "babysitting" a stolen Vermeer. The fictitious painting, also titled The Music Lesson, is both metaphor and catalyst in the story. Much is hidden beneath the surface of Vermeer's painting, just as much has been hidden beneath the surface of Patricia's life. Like the coded symbols in Dutch art, Patricia's passions and her family's unacknowledged past, until now, have also been hidden. Her lonely vigil with the adored painting, and her ruminations on the painting's silent, contemplative figure lead her to bring her own life and the strange turn it has taken into full comprehension. This new found clarity impels her to take a bold action, that, although it too will remain secret, will restore to Patricia what she cherishes most.

One could carry on for several more pages, pointing out the various ways the book deals both symbolically and directly with art, politics, passion, community, and "the feminine", and marveling at the intricacy and precision with which its themes are woven. Katharine Weber has ingeniously managed to tell a story at once straightforward and deeply, resonantly symbolic, without falling prey to pretense or straining for effect. That may be the novel's most singular accomplishment; as a reading experience, it's a perfect companion for a cold winter's night, warm, thoughtful and thoroughly engaging.

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  Photo of Katharine Weber copyright © Katharine Weber

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