(Reviewed by Debbie Lee Wesselmann AUG 26, 2006)
To many people, artistic brilliance is mysterious––a quality bestowed divinely or by accident upon the individual who possesses it. The musician, artist, or writer is often asked about daily routines, when he "knew" he was creative, and how he became who he is. In Irish author Claire Kilroy's American début, Tenderwire, the answer to the artistic riddle lies within another mystery: in the tones of an old violin smuggled into the United States by a band of thugs.
Narrator Eva Tyne, an Irish woman beginning her career as a solo violinist, collapses after an important concert. Unable to face both the reason behind her collapse and the lover with whom she shares an apartment, Eva finds solace in a bar, where she mixes alcohol with potent painkillers, a combination she knows is unwise and yet she cannot resist. There, she meets Daniel, an investment banker. After spending a platonic night with him, Eva returns home to face Krystof who believes from her sketchy story that he has been betrayed. When Eva doesn't tell him the truth about what happened, she sets off a series of events that lead her to the Magdalena, a violin so special and so resonant that she soon cannot imagine continuing without it. She is willing to do almost anything to possess it, even though the violin, in turn, ends up possessing her.
After she plays the astonishing instrument in concert, her career skyrockets from obscure soloist to featured performer on a world tour. It's as though the violin, and not the musician, has taken over. When confronted by the conductor of the chamber orchestra about the identity of the man, Alexander, who sold the instrument to her, Eva says, "I stared at Zach, my heart pounding as if he'd unmasked Alexander as the devil himself. There were rumors that Paganini was in league with satanic forces. That's how he played the violin so well. No ordinary human possessed such capacities. So they refused to bury him in consecrated ground. He owned a del Gesù too."
As can be seen in the previous quote, Kilroy's writing is neither provocative nor awkward, and instead it carries along her story without drawing attention to itself. This flatness of style keeps this novel from reaching its full potential, but, even so, Kilroy's storytelling ability entices one to continue reading, page by page, chapter by chapter. The author expertly weaves elements of Eva's past into the present, so that her willingness to break the rules of both her profession and her personal relationships becomes integral to who she is. The psychological textures of Eva's presumed dead father and a shaky relationship with her mother, as well as the physical longing she feels both for Krystof and Daniel, contribute to the fullness of Kilroy's novel. While it's a stretch to believe that Eva has sold her soul to own the Magdalena, her love of music and her desire to play the Magdalena are wholly believable. Kilroy writes, in Eva's voice, "It had been a harrowing day. I'd practiced so hard that I was physically confused, as when you step off a boat and dry land feels too steady. My arms without the violin and bow felt too steady. My fingers were bulbous with blood. I couldn't escape the sensation of these bruised, purple fingertips, worse than tin foil on teeth." The reader is there, with Eva, with her life as a musician, with her dedication to the complexities of a Shostakovich concerto.
A solid debut, this novel should gain some American fans for its Irish author. Its story is a good one, with some narrative twists along the way that deepen Eva's character. While not brilliant, this novel manages to satisfy, and the reason is does is no mystery.
- Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- All Summer (2003)
- Tenderwire (2006)
- All Names Have Been Changed (2009)
- The Devil I Know (February 2014)
(back to top)
(back to top)
About the Author:
Claire Kilroy was born in 1973 in Dublin, Ireland and was educated at Trinity College.
Her first novel, All Summer, was the recipient of the 2004 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and was short-listed for the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award
She lives in Dublin.