A suspenseful blend of music and social criticism that builds towards a startling finale
In her latest novel, Anna Enquist delivers her own unique take on thrillers. While incorporating her recurring themes such as classical music and the loss of loved ones, she chips away at the barrier that separates the well-behaved cultural elite from the harshness of reality until a cruel denouement is the only possible outcome.
The intimate collaboration within a string quartet forms a framework for relationships to develop. Enquist interweaves these emotional entanglements with a gripping plot and scathing social criticism. She is uncompromising in her condemnation of short-sighted local politics, destructive cultural policy and, above all, the power struggles being played out within the healthcare system.
A school trip that ended in a nightmare: general practitioner Caroline and her husband Jochem, a restorer of musical instruments, have lost their sons, aged 10 and 12, in a bus crash. Caroline has yet to come to terms with their deaths. She is unable to talk about the tragedy, determined to somehow keep her boys ‘whole’ in her mind’s eye. At the doctor’s surgery, she works alongside Heleen, a committed idealist who belongs to a writing club that corresponds with prisoners. Together with Hugo, the director of a music centre that has fallen into disuse, the four form a string quartet that plays together every week on Hugo’s houseboat.
This story is interwoven with touching scenes that centre on former cello teacher Reinier van Aalst, too frail to leave his house and afraid of being admitted to a nursing home. Out of necessity he relies on the help offered by a Moroccan boy who lives in the neighbourhood. Reinier gradually overcomes his mistrust and discovers that the boy is motivated by love of music and keen to learn. A musician herself, Enquist writes about musical nuances with astounding clarity, communicating what it is like to make music together and what it means to perform a composition.
Enquist adds a deeper layer to this intricately balanced psychological novel by introducing elements traditionally associated with the thriller. The result is a socially aware, musical composition with a startling finale. She shows that danger can be concealed just a heartbeat away and that the best of intentions can usher in disaster. For ultimately, it is the well-meaning idealist Heleen who inadvertently brings tragedy upon the quartet.