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An enchanting story told through smart, musical prose, May 29, 2015
In her follow-up to A House Near Luccoli author D.M. Denton takes readers back to 17th century Europe, moving the story of impassioned young spinster Donatella from Stradella’s Genoa to the England of Henry Purcell.
One instantly remarkable element of D.M. Denton’s fiction is her unique blending of history and fiction; such was the backdrop for her 2012 novel, A House Near Luccoli, which introduced a memorable fictional protagonist – Donatella – to one of Italy’s most enigmatic composers, the roguish Alessandro Stradella. This strength of Denton’s is played upon in Luccoli’s sequel novel, To a Strange Somewhere Fled, which finds a heartbroken Donatella amid a cast of decidedly English characters plucked with utmost authenticity from the resonance of history. After tragedy struck in Genoa, Donatella joins her family in her father’s native England, trading the majesty of the Mediterranean for the unruly weather and unusual society of Oxfordshire. Despondent and bereft, Donatella suffers renewed sadness as she comes to terms with her new life as a foreigner in a strange land, struggling to replace her native Italian with the confusing language of the English and ultimately learning to adapt to their ways.
Even as Donatella is haunted by the memory of Stradella – whose charming and often mischievous presence seems to have followed her, along with several never-performed copies of his compositions, to England – the determined heroine, expecting to resign herself once more to spinsterhood, finds unexpected emotions and, gradually, a new adventure awaiting her. From neighbors charming and catastrophic to an invasion of Italian musical greats, and even an appearance by the celebrated Henry Purcell, Donatella is soon buoyed between her own grief and the alluring, irrepressible pull of creativity. Almost all of the immediate characters in the story, with the exception of Donatella’s family and one or two others, are rooted in history, and the author shares her insights with the reader in a well-organized collection of historical notes at the back of the book. With this novel, Denton takes her fusion of history and fiction into an even deeper territory, depicting not only composers of British and Italian nationality, but also female singers and even men of law, such as the story’s male protagonist, biographer and lawyer Roger North. With sublime grace and devotion, Denton marries the two worlds together to form a setting for her novel that’s nothing short of enchanting.
Keeping true to A House Near Luccoli, much of the foundation of this novel relies heavily on music as expression. The cadences and temperaments of compositions are reflected in Denton’s pacing as well as her confidently executed freedom of narrative: some scenes that would traditionally be laid out in show-stopping dramatics may happen quietly, maybe even outside of the narrative completely; revelations are made, characters introduced, and emotions uncovered with unexpected swells and surges of expression. As a result, Denton’s writing is as beautiful and complex as the music she effectively seeks to honor. And while Donatella and her story, full as it is of such a legion of colorful characters, are vastly entertaining in their own right, often Denton’s descriptions of musical performances manage to swoop in and lift the reader up to even greater heights. Her passionate research and personal love of the art both shine through in the remarkable imagery her prose evokes, enrapturing her audience and taking them just a bit deeper into the intricacies of the 17th century setting. Irrevocable in its magic and intrepid in its storytelling, To a Strange Somewhere Fled is an fascinating and delectably original work that readers won’t soon forget.
(Review © Casee Marie, originally published on LiteraryInklings.com.
A beautifully realized sequel: beguiling and believable, March 10, 2015
To open the pages of a historical novel written by D.M. Denton is to find that the past is no longer a foreign country. In this beautifully realized sequel to A House Near Luccoli, the author once again effortlessly blends the vividly imagined fictional character Donatella with real-life historical figures and settings to create a world that is as beguiling as it is believable.
We are invited to follow Donatella’s progress as she faces a very different future from the one she had begun to imagine for herself – without the quixotic musical genius, the 17th century Italian composer, Alessandro Stradella, who reawakened her passions and zest for life.
This is a subtle, understated exploration of love and lost possibility and there are no easy answers or conventional happy endings. As Albert Schweitzer wrote, ‘In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being’. There can be no better description of Donatella’s encounter with Stradella in A House Near Luccoli – but now living in England, and haunted by vivid memories of her time with him in Italy, what can life hold for her?
Donatella, her heart awoken and then broken, remains ‘another man’s secret’. She can perhaps reveal herself again, but surrender has many guises.
Scrupulously researched and historically accurate, the novel immerses the reader in its historical period. That we can meet Purcell within these pages and find him totally believable as a living, breathing human being is a mark of the author’s imaginative powers and literary skill. There are, appropriately enough, no false notes to be found.
~ Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books
A Virtuoso Performance, March 11, 2015
In this tour-de-force book, D M Denton shows her command of a distinctive point of view and a writing style that enables her to communicate it. Her style breaks the rules, but it is just this breaking up and apart that reveals her character’s experiences in new and unexpected ways. It allows for flourishes, nuances, changes in pace, and variations on themes, as music does. With delicacy and sureness, the author works with her themes of memory, love, and loss. Grief and love vibrate throughout.
Donatella is a spinster, young, but not too young, who captures the wayward musician/composer Alessandro Stradella’s imagination, in A House Near Luccoli. In this sequel, Donatella has moved from her native Genoa to live with her father, now a retired sea captain, near the small town of Wroxton in the English countryside. She carries with her not only the memory of the extraordinary Stradella, who has been murdered, but some of his musical compositions as well. In this way she can keep a part of him with her, and protect his work from his enemies.
She is attuned to her rich interior life, as it is her most constant companion. This subliminal stream of images and thoughts, affords her a form of transcendence by overcoming time, as it links past, present and future.
Coming to a new and alien place, Donatella finds she has more freedom to explore the world. As she navigates the subtleties of unexpected relationships, she begins to open up, with the mature beauty of a late bloomer, made more enticing by her shyness and modesty. Her mother’s overt and indiscriminate sexual flirtations offer a sharp contrast to Donatella’s smoldering, deep-banked passion and careful sensuality. It is her virtue that attracts men. This is not the same as innocence; she is well aware of the human condition.
Donatella is intoxicated by her passion, which frightens her for what it might lead her to do. This is a story of a woman’s passion, whether it is the bliss of a walk in the woods, or the transporting joy of music, or the recognition of loving and being loved by another.
What an inspired and informed imagination to portray the young Henry Purcell. The composer is still finding his way, as are Donatella and another young man. Purcell appreciates the work of Stradella, and others who preceded him, even as he struggled to promote his own. The author’s descriptions of music, particular musicians, and musical performances make this book a work of art itself. To A Strange Somewhere Fled is a virtuoso performance.
Beautiful, lyrical writing, March 11, 2015
The music continues in To A Strange Somewhere Fled, DM Denton’s lovely sequel to A House Near Luccoli. This story follows Donatella and her mother, Julianna, to England and to the home of Donatella’s father, the Captain. The great musician, Alessandro Stradella, whom Donatella had loved, is gone now, but she has her memories in the form of copies of his never performed compositions. Those works are of great interest to the musicians in the novel, including the English composer, Henry Purcell and the Italian violinist, Carlo Ambrogio Lonati, both of whom play roles in Denton’s story.
This plot is as much about music as Donatella’s first story, which covered the time when she was a copyist for Stradella, but in this novel Donatella’s role as a performer is emphasized, along with her relationship with Roger North, a neighbor and friend of her father’s.
Denton writes with a lyrical style which swells, fades, and swells again, creating a perfect setting through its tone as much as its meticulous description. Her words pull her readers to 17th century England like music from that era.
In North Carolina driving from Asheville to Boone presents a choice. A driver can stick to the interstates or opt to take the Blue Ridge Parkway. The latter decision takes an extra hour or so, but along the way there are opportunities to stop at overlooks and enjoy scenes that are among the most magnificent in America. DM Denton’s writing presents a similar choice. It takes a little longer to read than most books of a similar page length, but along the way there are breathtaking moments which make the choice a wise one.