Music and motherhood, composing and giving birth – in a subtle, searching novel about a talented modern woman
Female artists have struggled for centuries to reconcile motherhood with their work. What then, should a young, ambitious female composer – the only woman in a field dominated by men – do with her desire to have children? Is it a good idea to embark on motherhood when your career is finally taking off and your compositions are being performed the world over?
That’s the heartrending dilemma faced by Alice Augustus, the main character in Demolition, who is about to turn forty. If she still wants to have a child, it’s now or never. She obsessively tries to get pregnant, paying one fruitless visit to a fertility clinic after another. Starting a family is less of a priority for her husband, a tax lawyer, calmly content with his life as it is. In the same period, Alice gets a prestigious commission; she is asked to compose an anniversary piece for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s a dream come true – Alice never would have thought that she, a woman, would receive such an honour. She can’t believe her luck. Will she be able to pull it off?
She works like a maniac and turns to her hero, Joseph Haydn, for inspiration. She has always considered the great composer, who never had any children of his own, to be a kindred spirit. She rereads his biography, listens to his compositions and puts her all into creating a wholly innovative piece of music: strings, brass, a slow crescendo, the pared-down, innocent sound of a recorder.
The reader empathises with Alice – you listen to her internal monologues, in which she voices the many questions she’s struggling to resolve; you understand her insecurity and her anger, the legacy of a loveless childhood and an early unwanted pregnancy.
Enquist sweeps the reader, rhythmically, insistently, towards the unexpected climax. Following in the footsteps of such great writers as Simone de Beauvoir, Hella S. Haasse and Virginia Woolf, Demolition is a contemporary take on a time-old subject – compelling and convincing.