Monday, August 2, 2010

The Bells by Richard Harvell

The innocent, struggling for survival in an indifferent and often hostile world, is a recurring theme in good literature. Richard Harvell taps into that and gives us his own unique spin that is part Dickens, part Gunter Grass and totally original. Written as a letter from a successful man to his son, the novel spans the beautiful and the grotesque in telling a story totally original and touching.

In 18th century Switzerland, a nameless waif spends his first years in a bell tower, cared for by a deaf mute mother who can only truly hear by ringing the town's bells. Surrounded by the deafening cacophony, the child begins to understand music not just with his ears, but with his entire body. This imprinting of music defines the child's destiny.

The child is dubbed Moses when he is rescued from the river by two worldly and resilient monks, who serve as his protectors. Moses' extraordinary voice is both a blessing and a curse: some seek to silence it and others try to own it. For a time he is protected in the Abbey of St. Gall and becomes the star singer in the choir. His voice is so beautiful that the choirmaster conspires to have Moses castrated to preserve the voice. That act catapults the action as Moses sets out on a harrowing journey to find true love and to fulfill his destiny as a great singer.

The structure of The Bells is an opera, although that only becomes apparent as you finish reading it. Long parts of the story reflect the recitative of 18th century opera and then a flurry of intense chapters form the aria. The love story between Moses and Amalia plays out against the backdrop of Orfeo ed Euridice. This is not heavy handed; one reads the story and the richness of structure, character, setting reverberate after, just as the tolling of bells does not end when the last note is struck.

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