Friday, 14 July 2017

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr
First published in Australia by Fremantle Press in 2013.

One of my WorldReads from Australia

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from its publishers via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hold one regret from that day: that I put my first love, my cello, aside. But it was to take up a bigger love, a greater thing; it was to step into the future. Music's Most Modern Instrument. And I was to become Music's Most Modern Musician.
Tracy Farr's debut novel is the fictional memoir of Dame Lena Gaunt: musician, octogenarian, junkie. Documentary filmmaker Mo Patterson approaches veteran musician Lena Gaunt after watching her play at a festival in Perth: her first performance in 20 years.
While initially suspicious of Mo's intentions and reluctant to have her privacy invaded, Lena finds herself sharing stories from her past.
From a solitary childhood in Malacca and a Perth boarding school, to a glittering career in Jazz-age Sydney, to quiet domesticity in a New-Zealand backwater, Lena's is a life characterized by the pull of the sea, the ebb and flow of passion and loss, and her enduring relationship with that extraordinary instrument, the theremin.

The Life And Loves Of Lena Gaunt is an introverted and thoughtful novel telling the life story of the world's first theremin player, Lena Gaunt. Gaunt never actually existed of course, but Farr's writing so beautifully creates her world that I often found it difficult to remember I wasn't reading about a real person! Daughter of an affluent but aloof family, Lena is shunted off to boarding school at an early age where she discovers her first love, the cello. As a young woman, chance leads her to the new invention of the theremin and her dedication to perfect playing results in her growing fame. We see Singapore and Australia, New Zealand, France and England through her eyes as she bounces, or is bounced, across the world, usually alone and usually returning to a district of Perth, Australia, the closest concept she has of home.

I loved Farr's writing in terms of its musical content and references. Lena's world is very much created around and guided by sound and this is conveyed in amazing detail to the reader. 1930s Sydney came across as a fabulous place and I would like to read more books set around this era. What particularly moved me about The Life And Loves were the flashback portrayals of Lena's search for both contrasted with her octogenarian self looking back over her life. Elderly Lena is not a generic geriatric and is very much the product of her bohemian youth. Still unable to resist a little flattery, but sadly aware of the her own mortality and loss, the experience gap between herself and the young festival musicians, herself and the film maker, gives a delicate melancholy to the whole book.

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Books by Tracy Farr / Contemporary fiction / Books from Australia

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