Song of Seduction is a fiercely turbulent and emotional story set in Austria in the early 1800s – in winter. It’s cold and passionate at the same time, with the greatest passion portrayed not by the characters but by the music they make. Mathilda Heidel is a hidden prodigy: she can play the violin by ear, mimicking perfectly and improvising instantly any piece she hears, despite a very little amount of instruction. But she’s buried her gifts for years in response to a notorious and painful childhood and a very pedestrian marriage that ended in her husband’s sudden death. When she’s introduced to composer Arie De Voss, her idol in the musical world in Vienna, she comes to know the man behind her admiration. His reputation as a master has been built on a symphony that he didn’t write, and he’s struggled for years to create a foundation for fame that is valid and utterly his own – without revealing his deception. When he finds himself drawn to Mathilda, he isn’t sure how to reveal his true self without destroying any regard she has for him. One of the themes of this novel is that idea of seeing one’s self clearly – and having the courage to reveal that self without fear.
I connected more with the heroine than with the hero, and in a story that’s as emotionally complex as this one, I wanted to have a better understanding of the hero. Sometimes he was wildly immature, sometimes he was boorish, sometimes he showed some unexpected sensitivity, and sometimes he was a manic genius – but because he switched modes so often and so quickly, I never got a true sense of who he was beneath that manic growling and scribbling. It fits his persona as a composing prodigy, but at the same time, it makes for a difficult romance hero. I wondered if he’d ever be stable enough to take care of his family and his home – and I didn’t want to imagine a future of Mathilda having to remind him to stop dripping crumbs over his latest work. Sometimes I wanted to smack him, sometimes I wanted to holler at him to grow the hell up already, and he had such a long way to go to redeeming himself, I’m not sure he really got there by the end.
Mathilda was a reflection of the setting: wintry, frozen, and iced over emotionally and physically. She’s terrified of letting herself, her true self, out and revealing her musical talent because her position in life is so precarious. As I said, I related to her much more easily, because she revealed more of her emotions and the history behind her pain and the origins of her fears, both rational and irrational. Part of Arie’s character is to keep just about everyone at a distance – but he does so to the reader to such an extent that I had less empathy for him and wanted to smack him more often, whereas with Mathilda, because I understood her motivation, I had a more sympathetic connection to her character.
Arie also spends more time telling than showing, in ruminations and narrator explanation, while Mathilda shows more in her interactions with other characters than she probably realizes.
One of the best relationships portrayed in the book is Mathilda’s relationship with her friend Ingrid. Mathilda lives with Ingrid, who has married very, very well, and while Ingrid’s husband wishes to have his wife to himself, he also knows that Mathilda is important to his wife, so he welcomes Mathilda into their home. Ingrid herself is rather awesome. Here she is, gently waking Mathilda up:
I don’t want to wake up.
“I don’t want to wake up.”
“Nonsense,” Ingrid said. “Get up, Tilda. This is my house and I will have you forced from it bodily if I must.”
“Does Venner know you call it your house?”
“I chose the wallpaper. It’s mine.”
Ingrid’s relationship with her husband, Venner, who is distant and a political genius rather than a musical one (he actually has very little interest or taste for music) is an interesting reflection of Mathilda’s attraction to Arie. Both men are ill equipped to participate in any type of emotional conversation or sentimental discussion, but while Arie was sharply frustrating, like ten pages of sixteenth notes gone wild, Ingrid’s husband is cool and predictable, and given to small but dedicated moments that demonstrate how deeply he loves his wife. Arie’s inability to consistently communicate his emotions toward Mathilda save on stage through or with music was troublesome for me. It wasn’t until nearly the end that he figured out what he ought to be doing.
But wow does Lofty shine in her written descriptions of the music. If there was one character I never tired of reading about, it’s the music that Arie and Mathilda create. Whether it’s his compositions, her improvisations or their joint performances, Mathilda’s and Arie’s genius is matched by Lofty’s impressive skill in writing what music sounds like:
The melody began as quiet as a spring rain, the sound of melting snow mingling with the dripping, pattering drops of an unpredictable sky….
But too soon, clouds pulled close and built into a storm. Forty other instrumental voices joined Mathilda’s violin as Arie navigated the musicians through a furious eruption of sound. Notes amassed with the fury of a sudden tumult. As the creation descended into anger, confusion, and doubt, Mathilda’s left hand flew across the fingerboard. Where there had been flower and light, only sadness remained.
Lofty’s skill in describing sound and narrating music elevates the book considerably, and the scenes of musical performance were my favorites. The music also represented the most coherent language Arie spoke, so through the performances and the compositions themselves, I gained the most insight into his character.
The other thing that made me stumble, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, was the amount of German. There’s not a great deal, but some of the words were obvious in context, while others completely flummoxed me, and I wondered what I was reading about. Despite being related to English, German is a tough language to crack visually for me, and I hope readers have an easier time than I did with some of the words in context.
Setting a book in a very different locale – Austria in winter (brrrrrrr) – was brave, and writing about music and writing down music in words was no small task. Though I wish I’d had more connection to the hero, I found many scenes to savor in this book, particularly in the amazing portrayal of the music.