The food of love

With stories by Somerset Maugham and Nadine Gordimer, Love Duet is a compelling anthology by Christopher Ondaatje of how we find love — and ourselves — in music

4 January 2014

9:00 AM

4 January 2014

9:00 AM

Love Duet and Other Curious Stories About Music Christopher Ondaatje

Rare Books & Berry, pp.217, £19.95, ISBN: 9780956386755

The Albek Duo are two astonishingly beautiful and talented Venetian musicians, Fiona and Ambra, who are identical twins. Hearing the sisters perform inspired Christopher Ondaatje to create this book. He tells a story — ‘Love Duet’ — in which he imagines what would happen if the twins both fell in love with the same man. They agree that one should marry, and they should carry on as before. For the sisters, abandoning their music or each other is unthinkable.

This is an anthology of stories on the theme of music and how it can govern our lives and express our emotions. You don’t need to be a concert-goer to enjoy this book — all the pieces assembled here are accessible and absorbing. Nadine Gordimer’s ‘The Second Sense’ is the story of a cellist’s wife who can tell from the voice of the cello what her husband’s feelings are — and that he is having an affair with another woman.

In ‘A Wagner Matinée’, Willa Cather writes of a young man who takes his old aunt from the prairies, a music teacher in her youth, to a Wagner concert at the Boston Academy. Tears pour down her cheeks as the music — which she hasn’t heard for many, many years — washes over her.

Best of all is Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Alien Corn’, a beautifully observed story of the son of a family of wealthy assimilated Jews, who chucks his life as a country gentleman in order to train as a pianist in Munich. For him — as for all the characters in these stories — music is how he finds himself. Ondaatje’s anthology is original, thought-provoking and a compelling read.

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