AUTHOR: ANNE RICE
The blurb on the back of the book:
“IN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY ITALY THE CASTRATI RECREATED HEAVEN ON EARTH.
Their exquisite voices soured above the glittering world of courtiers and nobility. Those who achieved fame were showered with riches and sexual favours. But their success also had a terrible sadness.
TONIO, of noble birth, is the victim of a vengeful brother. Disinherited and forced to join the ranks of the castrati, he plans his revenge while striving to become the greatest of all singers.
GUIDO, sacrificed to the knife at an early age, composes opera and dreams of the perfect voice to give it life. He discovers Toni and becomes his teacher.
Together they reach the very pinnacle of success. Tonio is pushed to the extremes of endurance as he tries to resolve his lust for glory and for vengeance.”
“Don’t weep in front of these strangers! Cry to heaven, cry to heaven, cry to heaven.”
Oh my, what a book. Beautifully written, it tells a story filled with beauty, music and love while portraying unimaginable pain, desperation and hate. The idea of the mutilation young boys went through so that they might avoid losing their beautiful soprano voices is so cruel, so very inhumane it is hard to imagine that it really happened. But it did. Young boys gifted with promising voices, often from very poor families, were subjected to this form of mutilation to alleviate their family’s hardship and give them a chance at a more prosperous future. Young boys such as Guido in this story, who would never know what it would be like to be a man. Young boys who would grow up to look different from other men, who would be instantly recognisable as castrati, who could achieve fame and fortune but would never have been seen as “normal” people. But if the boys were young enough when the operation took place and if they were good enough to make a name for themselves, they had every opportunity to make a satisfying life for themselves with often only a vague idea of exactly what it was they had lost.
How much worse to have the mutilation inflicted upon you when you’re fifteen, when you’ve had your first glimpses of what it might mean to be a man, when you’ve started to think and dream of everything you might do and achieve in just a few more years. How much worse when you’re Tonio and the thing you love most in the world – singing – is used against you to rob you of your heritage, your family, your home and everything you thought was waiting for you in the future.
And how very well does Anne Rice share the pain of this loss with her readers. Because this is, for the most part, a story about loss. There is Guido who has to come to terms with the loss of his voice.
“It was as if his own voice had been his lover, and his lover had forsaken him.”
And while he finds his salvation in teaching others to sing and writing his masterful songs and operas, it isn’t until he hears Tonio’s voice and is given the opportunity to mentor him that he finds a new and maybe his true purpose in his life.
Guido may have lost his voice, Tonio loses everything he has ever known when he’s just fifteen years old. Exiled from his home in Venice, robbed of his manhood and his inheritance it is no wonder he falls victim to anger and despair.
“No matter how he felt, he would behave as if he did not feel it, and everything would be better.”
And even when Tonio does allow his love of singing to ease his pain, the taboos he still has to overcome are as enormous as the mountain he can see from his bedroom in Naples.
But this is also a story about love; love found in the most unexpected places. The love between Guido and Tonio, enduring, volatile but indestructible. The love of music. The love for others, strong, beautiful and engrossing but never replacing or diminishing the love between the teacher and his star pupil. This is a story about facing the hand life has dealt you and playing it the best you can, only to discover that maybe you ended up with a winner after all.
This is a story that will break your heart in a multitude of ways only to put it back together. This is a book filled with characters that will captivate you and stay in your thoughts for a long time after you finish reading. For me this was a book about a phenomenon I was barely aware of; a phenomenon I found as fascinating as I found it abhorrent. There is a quiet beauty in this book. The writing appears distant and yet gives such a wealth of emotion and beauty.
I don’t quite have the words to describe just how much this book affected me; how strongly this story touched me. I have the emotion though; I love this book and this story.
I owe Tiffany Reisz a debt of gratitude for recommending yet another jewel of a book. Once again she has brought me to a story that has made a lasting impression on me. I will forever be grateful for the day I found a description of “The Siren” on NetGalley and decided I needed to read it. Who knew that one click on a “request” button would bring me such a wealth of literary, as well as other, delights.