The Travelling Hornplayer revisits some of the characters I loved in Brother of the More Famous Jack. But first it starts with Ellen. Ellen has always had a close relationship with her sister Lydia, and the two girls’ adolescent silliness and charm is vividly depicted early in the novel in lively dialogue. But Lydia dies at age 17 while Ellen is away at university. She runs unexpectedly out into the street from the home of the man Ellen and Lydia call The Novelist and is hit by a car. Lydia has been consulting him about (well, actually cribbing from him) her essay for her A levels on Wilhelm Müller’s Seventy-Seven Poems from the Posthumous Papers of a Travelling Hornplayer. It takes awhile before we find out the cause of her death.
The Novelist is Jonathan Goldman, whose family so charmed Katherine, the heroine of Brother of the More Famous Jack, now his wife. Jonathan and Katherine have only one child, Stella, whose childhood illnesses and learning disabilities have led Katherine to do everything for her. Finally almost on her own at university in Edinburgh, where she becomes Ellen’s roommate (almost on her own because her mother arrives periodically to do the cleaning), Stella makes a series of spectacularly poor decisions that result in tragedy for herself and others and a separation from her family.
This sounds like a sad tale, and in some ways it is, but it is told lovingly and movingly, with intelligent characters and witty dialogue. Trapido depicts characters of surprising depth and complexity. She is a really beautiful writer, and I love her work.
A word about this cover. I was unable to find a good-sized picture of my book’s cover without the Amazon Look Inside logo on it. That cover, which shows two young girls comparing their identical outfits, conveys the feel of the novel much more successfully than the one above, which looks like children’s fiction or chick lit to me. Here it is in a smaller size.