04 June 2014


Summary from Goodreads:
In Orfeo, Powers tells the story of a man journeying into his past as he desperately flees the present. Composer Peter Els opens the door one evening to find the police on his doorstep. His home microbiology lab the latest experiment in his lifelong attempt to find music in surprising patterns has aroused the suspicions of Homeland Security. Panicked by the raid, Els turns fugitive. As an Internet-fueled hysteria erupts, Els the "Bioterrorist Bach" pays a final visit to the people he loves, those who shaped his musical journey. Through the help of his ex-wife, his daughter, and his longtime collaborator, Els hatches a plan to turn this disastrous collision with the security state into a work of art that will reawaken its audience to the sounds all around them.

Orfeo popped up on my radar when the Millions website released their list of most anticipated books for January - June 2014.  I'd never read Richard Powers but the description was compelling.  The situation Els finds himself in could conceivably happen.

I like the ideas in this book, all the thoughts of a life and regrets and creations rolled into a few days on the run.  Els's life was interesting and the digressions into his backstory are quite a read.  I don't know if the book was hard to put down because of the story or because there weren't any chapter breaks AT ALL (there was a really annoying perspective shift from limited 3rd to 3rd omnicient to 2nd about 10 pages from the end that was really unnecessary).

However, I seriously did not have enough information/experience in mid to late 20th century classical composition to even start to understand the things Els is talking about (I top out at Shostakovich with a little Shonberg thrown in).  Ron Charles's review for the Washington post notes how much music he purchased; I didn't actually buy anything - I already had most of it - but the Messaien went on the wishlist.  The worst sections for me were trying to make sense of what Richard Bonner was doing; it just seemed like random garbage to me.  This was a good read, but it didn't blow my socks off.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this from the library.

ETA: Orfeo has been long-listed for the 2014 Booker Prize (and it is still weird to me that non-UK/Commonwealth/Ireland writers - i.e. Americans - are eligible for this award).

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