Contrary to my previous assertions that I don’t like audiobooks, I actually enjoyed this one. Of course, it was a lot shorter than my last attempt with Librivox, and that helped, but I’m sure the story and readers helped as well. The Lost Stradivarius is about a young man at Oxford, John Maltravers, who begins to experience strange phenomena after his best friend, William Gaskell, brings over some music he got in Italy on a trip. The particular music that causes the trouble is part of the Areopagita suite – the Gagliarda (let me just say here that I really appreciated that at least one Librivox reader, Karen Savage, pronounced these properly). Each time the two men play the Gagliarda, they hear the sound of someone sitting down in the wicker chair that’s in the room, and eventually, John actually sees the ghost. This sets off a span of events that eventually culminates in the discovery of an antique Stradivarius violin.
The discovery of this violin is not a good thing – John becomes moody, secretive, and withdrawn. He lives out a few short years under the powerful influence of the violin and the Gagliarda, which he plays almost constantly. Most of this time, he spends in Naples, neglecting his wife, his newborn son, his sister, and all business affairs. While it is never expressly said, the reader is led to believe that the violin is haunted with an evil spirit.
I thought the writing in this book was absolutely beautiful, and I wish I could read a print copy of it. There isn’t one available in our library, and I’m not a big fan of being glued to the computer to read it on Gutenberg. I was very impressed, however, with the language, with the way Falkner wove metaphor into sentences without overdoing it. Every sentence seemed to be active, alive, radiant. Just as a quick example of something I remember offhand:
The moon showed that blunted and deformed appearance which she assumes a day or two past the full, and the moisture in the air encircled her with a stormy-looking halo. … The glaucous shrubs that grow in between the balusters were wet and dripping with the salt breath of the sea…
Just beautiful! I was completely enthralled by it. As for the story, I was drawn in immediately. I thought the first half of the book was much stronger than the second half. The problem was – the book is written as a letter from John’s sister to his son, and at the beginning, she knows everything John has been through at Oxford, and narrates it from his point of view, but as he moves into the moody, secretive side and begins to spend all his time at Naples, she starts narrating from her own vantage point. The last chapter is a note from Mr. Gaskell, revealing further details from John’s confessions, things his sister didn’t know. And there are mysteries never solved, where both narrators say, “I never could figure this out.” While Mr. Gaskell’s narration fills in some gaps, it felt a little too much like a device to me. It seemed almost as if Falkner was afraid to say what he wanted to say with this book (particularly in the sections he left completely unsolved). It was too pagan or too unconventional or too something, and he just avoided it altogether. I like being “in the moment” with books, so I really enjoyed the ghost story from the beginning, and was a little disappointed at the second half. Not so much that I wouldn’t recommend the story, though – I did like it. I just wish he’d kept writing the book all the way through the way he did at the beginning. Thankfully, the beautiful language was consistent all the way throughout. I’m interested in seeing what else he wrote.