Music and Silence by Rose Tremain

musicandsilenceMusic and Silence, Rose Tremain 1999, Vintage 2000

In the year 1629, a young English lutenist named Peter Claire arrives at the Danish Court to join King Christian IV’s Royal Orchestra. From the moment when he realises that the musicians perform in a freezing cellar underneath the royal apartments, Peter Claire understands that he’s come to a place where the opposing states of light and dark, good and evil, are waging war to the death. 

Designated the King’s ‘Angel’ because of his good looks, he finds himself falling in love with the young woman who is the companion of the King’s adulterous and estranged wife, Kirsten. With his loyalties fatally divided between duty and passion, how can Peter Claire find the path that will realise his hopes and save his soul?

There are so many different viewpoints in this novel; around twelve. Like many pieces of a glittering jigsaw that slowly start to make sense the further I read on. At various points I would realise why Tremain had introduced this character at an earlier stage and the picture would begin to form. It is a very delicate and skilful way of writing a story and every now and then my awareness of the story would shift as she revealed another of the character’s connections to each other.

Denmark is ever present. Water snow stone. All I really knew of Denmark is Hamlet but Tremain educates her readers. This is Denmark. This is a water country.

Christian knew in advance of his being that Denmark needed him, that the kingdom was floating free at the mercy of the polar storms and the hatred of the Swedes across Kattegat Sound and that he alone would be the one to build enough ships to anchor and protect her. And so he fought to be born as fast as possible. He kicked and struggled in his mother’s waters; he headed for the narrow channel that would lead him out into the bright sir that tasted of the sea.

Christopher with all his idealisms and foolishness and intelligence and selfishness and love is an extremely complex and subtle character whom I disliked but found interesting to read about. As is the funny yet so selfish and dreadful Kirsten who made me laugh out loud sometimes and grit my teeth in others. The high romantic love between Peter Claire and Emilia did not move me at all but Emilia herself did.

But it is the dull Charlotte and George in watery marshy Norfolk  that moved me the most with their gleeful sense of humour and delight in what they have in each other. In a story full of stories of lust and uncertainty and as opaque as all the water in Denmark they stand as beautiful as a craggy rock. A character that seemed so unimportant that she didn’t even have a name in the first half of the book made me smile by the end as did Emilia’s love of Gerda the hen.

This is a beautiful book full of complex characters but the character that stayed with me a long time after I finished was the country of Denmark.

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