Music and Silence

Yesterday I picked up a friend from hospital and, whilst waiting, I began and finished Rose Tremain's Music and Silence. Full disclosure: while I would rather see Denmark become a republic than remain a monarchy, I do have a favourite Danish king, King Christian IV, and Tremain's novel is set in his court. It is always interesting to see my heritage interpreted by foreigners. Recently I went to Largs on the west coast of Scotland and visited their Viking exhibition. I was unsure of whether to laugh or cry at the incompetent and sometimes plain wrong presentation. Tremain has a firmer idea of what she wants to do with the source material, thankfully. The book is well-researched and coherent. I was quite impressed by Tremain's use of personal names as I've often seen otherwise decent historical novel fail by using anachronistic names. I did wonder about inconsistent orthography ("ø" is rendered faithfully but "å" isn't) but it is a minor quibble.

So Music and Silence is a well-researched novel about the Danish King's court in 1629/1630. You get the full meltdown of the King's relationship with his infamous mistress/Salic wife, Kirsten Munk, and you are also privy to the disastrous economic situation in Denmark following years of warfare and overspending. The book is well-written literary fiction. You would think I would be all over this, wouldn't you? Sadly the book left me cold.

I wanted to spend more time with the King who actually had a larger-than-life personality. I wanted a more nuanced take on Kirsten Munk who becomes Evil Carnated in Tremain's version. I wanted to hear about the King's children (some of whom led incredibly colourful lives). I wanted to know about a country in transit from European superpower to European ruin. I wanted to read about a country where the monarch had continuous problems controlling his own noblemen. Tremain had so much interesting material available to her and I was stuck reading about two dull original characters and their insipid backgrounds. Moreover, I was left feeling that her literary-visual take on a Baroque royal court owed far more to Sally Potter's film adaptation of Orlando than anything else.


This week has been a real beast and I'm yet to send out any of the blog giveaways. I am very sorry. Bar more unforeseen disasters (you don't want to know), I hope to send things out by Saturday. And please cross your fingers that the few remaining days of this week will pass uneventfully.