The Children’s Bach

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Well-written, yet undeniably bleak, this is an 80’s era (both written and set) tale of domestic breakdown, existential nothingness, and bodies in motion, – unlikable characters bumping into each other randomly and in the process, spinning out trails invariably murky and mostly unpleasant.

Set in Melbourne, Australia, the story features Dexter, who once “wanted to live gloriously”, and his wife Athena, who is trapped in a stifled and passionless marriage. When Dexter encounters an old university friend, the glamorous Elizabeth, and her teenage sister Vicki, the stage is set for upheaval. Particularly with the introduction of Phillip, Elizabeth’s sometimes lover, a successful musician with a penchant for girls, – young, vapid, starstruck, and always available.

This is not an easy read. Written in a chaotically disorganized stream of scenes, contiguous and fluid, POVs begin and end and it’s up to the reader to contextualize who is speaking and where the heck we are now in the tangled multi-story stream unfolding.

For some this may be only jarring, – for this reader the writing style also felt deliberately jumbled – the authors trick to juxtapose worlds in as disarming a disarray as the characters, and their narrative world, themselves embody. (Although noting this did not make this writing style any more readable).

For those are indeed characters in total disarray: meandering, unhappy, brutal, amoral, flippant and narcissistic. Some, admittedly (that is, Dexter), with just a hint of vulnerability amidst his bravado. Yet each is universally hideous in their treatment of a young, most likely (although not spelled out) autistic boy, Billy, including (perhaps even centering from) the hands of his “perfect” mother, Athena.

Worth a read for the experimental and therefore interesting approach, this was not, however a read I particularly enjoyed.

A great big thank you to Netgalley, the author and the publisher for an ARC of this book. All thoughts presented are my own.


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