Sight Reading: A Novel

Image of Sight Reading: A Novel
Release Date: 
May 21, 2013
Harper Collins
Reviewed by: 

“. . . an amazingly accurate biographical account of today’s music school life.”

Musicians live in a world of their own—usually of their own making. Outsiders tend to either mock us or exalt us, depending on their level of comprehension of just what it is we are trying to accomplish. As Oscar Wilde said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Musicians strive to live and experience everything that life has to offer above all else. Good or bad. Hard or easy. We want it all. Once in awhile, an uninitiated guest will crack the secret code and be let into this insane and beautiful and complex and exclusive slice of heaven.

Sometimes they are able to capture it with words.

Not being a musician herself, Daphne Kalotay either did excellent research for her latest novel, Sight Reading, or she had someone on the inside. Or both. Her book reads like an amazingly accurate biographical account of today’s music school life.

Anyone who took any kind of reputable musical instruction will recognize the dramatic music teacher whose tactics seemed insane at the time, but were suddenly revealed as brilliant a few years down the road. The constant practicing and stress of “Will I make it?” rings true for those of us who have been there.

Focusing on three main characters—Hazel, Remy, and Nicholas—the reader gets to watch how these lives are joined together or torn asunder with music as the backdrop to it all. Oscar Wilde and his witty bon mots pop up every now and then as Remy tries to work through growing up and not being a superstar. Hazel and Nicholas struggle through married life, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

Somehow Ms. Kalotay manages to capture the fleeting exultation that performers feel whenever they play. It is as if she has been on stage, bow in hand, ready to make or break her career with a single piece of music: the swirling butterflies coupled with a powerful to determination to prove the artistic talent and not waste all those hours and hours of practice.

As Mr. Wilde says, “In this world there are only two tragedies: one is not getting what one wants, the other is getting it.” No one knows this better than musicians, feeling the letdown once the final note has been played—or word has been typed. Maybe being an author is more like being a musician than we realize.