I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Symphony in Blue

Declan O’Driscoll
Virtuoso, by Yelena Moskovich, Serpent’s Tale, 256 pp, £14.99, ISBN: 978-1788160254 Meeting someone means there has to be a parting, be it temporary or permanent, expected or unexpected, distressing or welcome. Before the meeting, there must have been a connection. A connection eagerly sought or brought about by circumstances. Both types of connection are a major feature of Yelena Moskovich’s second novel, Virtuoso. The wish to be with someone else – to seek love or freedom through them – is central to her multi-stranded, chimerical novel. But here, in the opening pages – in the opening sentence – a departure precedes any connection. “Face down on the hotel linen, the body.” We are as confused as those in the hotel room. There’s mention of “her wife”, so we establish that there are two women – one dying or dead – the other in shock. Paramedics. Hotel staff. Fear. A defibrillator. Blue foam. “There is extra weight within the room, like a movement finishing itself.” It will be some time before we find out about the first meeting that led, eventually, to that tragic scene but because she signs her name on an official form we do know that the newly bereaved woman’s name is Aimée de Saint-Pé. Before then, other personal connections must be established. Many other connections. And in a novel which regularly changes narrator, perspective and time, we too must establish connections. We meet Jana recounting the turmoil of Czechoslovakia in 1968 – a little before she was born – when students were so appalled by the forced ending of the Prague Spring that they were willing to set themselves on fire. First, Jan Palach and then Jan Zajíc killed themselves by self-immolation. Zajíc left a heartbreaking letter for his parents which explained why he felt he had to take such action and ended with him asking that they: “Say hi to the boys, the river and the forest.” For Jana, the boy’s self-sacrifice is both alarming and fascinating. “I thought often about this act, so unusual, so special. I kept trying to decide if it’s something I would like to do or would like to reserve for a very special occasion.” As a young girl, she wanted her life to change. There was too much anxiety evident in those around her. Conversations between mothers took the form of coded phrases. If only something would occur that might elicit…



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