I received an advanced review copy of this title from Gallic Books through NetGalley.
When we first meet Lena Gaunt, she is a lonely octogenarian who has been invited to play her theremin at a music festival near her home in Perth, Australia. Lena has had a long and interesting life and her most notable accomplishment has been as an innovative musician. After her performance on her theremin, a odd looking electric instrument that one plays by manipulating one’s hands in the air without touching it, she relaxes in her trailer by smoking some heroin. At first this seems funny that a woman her age is engaging in such extracurricular activities; but as we learn more about Lena’s life, we come to understand that her dependence on mind altering drugs helps numb the pain of the devastating losses she has experienced.
Lena is actually born in Singapore in 1910 where her father is a successful and wealthy businessman. When Lena is only four-years-old she is shipped off to Australia to attend a boarding school. This is the first experience of lost love that Lena experiences. She is alone at this school, far away from any family and her only comfort is her music. Her mother’s brother, Uncle Valentine, drops in on her every once in a while and it is Uncle Val that eventually introduces her to the cello. Music becomes, for Lena, an escape, a comfort; it soothes her and gives her something on which to focus.
When Lena is a young adult she finally settles in Sydney among a group of artists and their patrons. It is during this period where she is introduced to a professor who has invented the theremin and her expert playing and manipulation of this innovate instrument are what launches her into the spotlight. It is also during this time that Lena meets the love of her life, Beatrix, who is a talented painter and artist in her own right.
Lena has a full life during which she is showered with accolades and acknowledgement for her musical talent. But despite her success, a feeling of loss and loneliness pervade her life. She moves around the world, from Paris to London to New York City, but in the end she finds her way back to Perth and to the beach and ocean which she loves so much.
This seems, at first, like a quiet and slow book but about half way through it grabs you and sneaks up on you until you can’t put it down because you so desparately want to know what happens to Lena and those she loves. I will admit that I had to wipe a tear or two from my eyes after finishing her story.
Gallic Books has brought us another brilliant, character centered story that I highly recommend. They were one of my favorite publishers last year and their winning streak continues with me. Kudos to Tracy Farr for a successful first book that is being published not only in her native Australia, but in England and the United States as well.
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4 responses to “Review: The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr”
I’ve read a few reviews of this book recently – it sounds completely unique and it’s going on my TBR list.
Loved this and it made my To 5 Fiction Reads of 2015, pretty good for a debut novelist! I was captivated right from the start, the way Tracy Farr writes about the sea had me from the beginning, I just knew I was going to get into it. I’m not familiar with Perth, but some of the other locations, I am familiar with, I loved how she evoked Sydney, the painting of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Dunedin and its cold, the opium dens of Malaya, it was exotic, she was on the fringes of society and part of that bohemian scene and something of a free spirit as well as being an accomplished musician, brilliantly evoked, great characterisation as you say. Great review!
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I stayed up really late on Sat. night to finish most of it, which I was not planning on doing. But the story really pulled me in and I had to find out what happened. Although I really wanted more details on whose Gracie’s father was and what happened with that. Any thoughts about that situation?
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Yes, there was a night in Dunedin with the students, drinking and vague recollections, but enough of a clue to deduce what happened. I remember reading it and wondering if it meant what I thought it meant, and then when Gracie appears, it confirmed it. Something she’d rather forget and so places very little thought there. And never went back.
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