Sunday, October 11, 2015
Muse & Views Bookclub was hosted by Jolene. Present were Betty, Colette, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. Jolene served smoked salmon and cheese on crackers, wonderful little meatballs and a quite wonderful vodka Mojito in honour of Russia.
The book this month, Colette's choice was Us Conductors by Sean Michaels. Colette chose it because it won the Giller Scotia Prize in 2014 and the story has a historical significance. Sean Michaels who now lives in Montreal, grew up in Ottawa and attended Glebe Collegiate. Mr. Michaels created a well-known and well regarded mp3 blog called Said the Gramophone that tracks the rise of new musicians and bands and is credited for opening doors for bands such as Arcade Fire and singers such as Basia Bulat. Mr. Michaels has also written music reviews for The Globe and Mail, The Wire, The Guardian and the National Post among others. He has also written travel articles and short stories. Us Conductors is his first novel.
Us Conductors is historical fiction inspired by the life of a Russian Inventor Léon Theremin and a musician Clara Rockmore. Among the many inventions credited to Léon Theremin, his most famous invention is the musical instrument the theremin. The theremin is considered the first electronic musical instrument. It is often used as background music in series such as Midsomer Murders as it's sound can be eerie and project doom.
All members enjoyed the book especially because though the story is fiction, it gave us the opportunity to learn about the Theremin as a musical instrument, about Léon Theremin himself, though as a fiction not everything was true. We also learned about Clara Rockmore and her music and in the second half of the novel, about the Russian prison system.
The book was very well written, as a letter to Clara. The writing style reminded some of us of a book we read previously Rules of Civility Amor Towles. The first half of this book takes place in the 1920's in New York, in bars and dance clubs as in Rules of Civility.
We wondered about the title and Jolene as she often does found us a good explanation. To play the theremin you stand in front of the instrument with your hands in air and you move them through the electric current to make the musical sound, as a conductor. As to the "Us" it could be that in our lives we are all conductors.
We all felt it was a positive read and all of us looked up information about the theremin, about the New York Jazz era and about Russia, Léon Theremin and Clara Rockmore.