Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Review: The Travelling Horn Player by Barbara Trapido

Barbara Trapido's The Travelling Horn Player is a story about the death of Lydia Dent and how her death affects and connects the other characters in the story. Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the main characters--Ellen Dent (university student and also Lydia's sister), Jonathan Goldman (novelist), and Stella Goldman (university student, cellist, and Jonathan's daughter). The Travelling Horn Player is funny at times, poignant, sad, perplexing and ultimately exasperating.

I liked the first half of the book. Lydia's sister, Ellen, describes their childhood and reveals amusing stories. The two girls are vivacious and fun, and it made me feel sad that Ellen's life would be forever changed by her sister's death. 

Through family connections, Lydia asks noted writer Jonathan Goldman to help her with an essay on Germanic poetry. What follows is the two of them meeting at a flat where he does his writing and carries on an affair with his latest girlfriend, Sonia, without his wife finding out. Through a misunderstanding and mistaken identity, Lydia runs from Jonathan's flat and into oncoming traffic where she's hit by a car and dies.

Jonathan has lunch frequently with Sally who is married to his brother, Roger, a mathmetician. Roger makes life difficult in a number of ways for Sally. For example, he ruins the pots and pans in his effort to adhere to his strict and bizarre diet, and he finds it tiresome to wear clothes when he's at home.

Then, there's Izzy, a friend of Ellen's at the university in Edinburgh. He's a starving artist in need of a bath who lives like a pig. Jonathan's daughter, Stella, who is at the same university meets Izzy through Ellen. Izzy and Stella fall in love, and she becomes his muse. He begins an obsession with Stella, and he works on painting after painting of Stella.

Besides Lydia, Stella is a tragedy of the story. She's dyslexic and has a hard time fitting in but discovers her talent as a cellist. Living with Izzy, she ends up pregnant and later learns she has contracted HIV from him. Stella marries another classmate, Peregrine Massingham, known as Pen, who comes from an affluent Scottish family. (Pen and his eccentric family are the bright spots of the second half of the book.)

The ending of the novel has twists and turns in which several of the characters make decisions that don't seem plausible. I found it hard to believe that Ellen would meet Roger and find him irresistible. Stella, who learns that her health is much improved towards the end of the novel, meets up with Izzy and makes a spectacularly bad decision that affects the rest of her life.

I wanted to like this novel more than I did, but I became too frustrated with the characters and the plot. Also, it was hard to like several of the characters. 

If you are familiar with The Travelling Horn Player, I'd love to know your thoughts.

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