The newest books are those that never grow old.
~ Holbrook Jackson, 1874 – 1948, British journalist, writer and publisher
Four and a half plus years after the publication of A House Near Luccoli, it’s heartening to receive such a beautifully written, in-depth, and engaging review from Margaret Panofsky, author of The Last Shade Tree set to be released this summer. Margaret is also a fine early music performer and dedicated director of The Teares of the Muses, The New York University Collegium Musicum Viol Consort. It is, of course, especially satisfying to receive such a favorable response from someone so knowledgeable and involved with the music and masters of the early Baroque era.
Peering into another era
By Margaret A. Panofsky, May 30, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In “A House Near Luccoli,” DM Denton successfully blends the lives of a fictional female character with an existing historical figure to create a tale that is both believable and moving. The 17th-century Italian composer Alessandro Stradella is well enough known to those of us in the early-music field, although his works are under-appreciated today. However, in the Wikipedia article’s words, “He enjoyed a dazzling career as a freelance composer, writing on commission, and collaborating with distinguished poets, producing over three hundred works in a variety of genres.” When the story begins, Stradella has already committed a serious crime, bedded too many women, fled several cities in disgrace, and survived a near-fatal attack. He has also written quantities of amazing music, much of it sacred. Donatella, the fictional character, is hardly his type. And yet, a most unusual relationship, largely built on mutual respect, slowly evolves.
Denton demonstrates the depth of her research and her immersion in the period by depicting in detail a 17th-century household’s furnishings and daily rituals. The thoroughness of the description is especially appropriate since the no-longer-young Donatella is a virtual prisoner inside her own house. We can visualize the furniture, the food consumed, and the scrubbing, dusting, and scouring that go on in the dark, slightly musty and scruffy rooms off the staircase and hallways. We see the practical kitchen, and even a small walled garden, scented by citrus trees.
Denton’s subtle rendering of the “pecking order” in a class-conscious society is quite stunning, from the lowest of the servants, to fish sellers, to Donatella herself, to Stradella and the musicians he directs, and upward to the top-tier nobility. Of course, dominating each social class from low to high is the inevitably superior male. The members of these separate classes often rub shoulders, although they usually remain mindful of their pre-ordained positions in life.
Now we come to the crux of why Donatella’s character is so interesting, and from the outset, we are spared the typical feminist-heroine of historical fiction, annoyingly spunky and incongruously stuck in a period costume. True to her century, Donatella is not in an upwardly mobile social position, to say the least. She is not particularly beautiful, or, at her age, marriageable. She is not wealthy or a noblewoman. Rather, she is in stasis, genteelly trapped, living under the thumb of an authoritarian aunt while caring for her aged grandmother, her cats, and a scrappy household. When Stradella appears on the scene, she begins to use talents she hardly knew she had, and without guile or flirtatiousness, she fascinates the libertine composer through her goodness and honesty. In spite of his bad-boy reputation, Stradella treats this modest woman, a hidden romantic, with unusual deference.
The long sentences made up of multiple clauses separated by many commas bothered me at first, and occasionally I had to reread them to grasp the content. But after a while, I fell under the spell of Denton’s unique style. The overall effect is gauzy, like peering into another era obscured by the haze of centuries. But upon closer examination, I sensed steely precision. These sentences and paragraphs are a paean to Italian baroque architecture—outwardly flamboyant, but powerfully robust, the clauses curling back upon themselves. Her collage-like cover illustrations also embody the delicacy and strength of the novel.
Margaret Panofsky has been a director and faculty member for numerous workshops and has played with many other ensembles. She performs frequently with the St. Michael’s Choir. Her New Bass Viol Technique was published in 2012, and an edition of Capricornus’s Ein Lämmlein, co-authored with Kent Underwood, appeared in 2015. Her degrees are from Stanford and the New England Conservatory. She is happy to announce a forthcoming science fantasy novel, The Last Shade Tree, to be published by All Things That Matter Press (lastshadetree.com).
Thank you so much, Margaret
and to all who visit this blog
and have supported my writing and creative endeavors!
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