Harry Fox-Talbot, a noted English composer, was devastated when his beloved wife died. She had been a celebrated singer, music had brought them together, bound them together, and illuminated their lives; but now Fox – he had always been known as Fox – could not listen to music let alone think of playing or composing.
He had no idea what to do with his days; or how he might live the rest of his life.
But he found inspiration.
Inspiration came in the unlikely shape of his grandson, a troublesome four year old who was driving his mother – one of Fox’s two daughters – to distraction. One day he did something that made Fox realise that he had the musicality that his daughters – and his other grandchildren – lacked; and it soon became clear that he was something of a prodigy.
Fox took steps – quite instinctively – to nurture his grandson’s talent; and as he did that his own love of music and life came creeping back. This was so lovely to watch.
There were resentments because Fox was engaging with his grandson as he never had with his daughters. Natasha Solomons showed wonderful understanding of family dynamics here and throughout the story.
Fox threw a wonderful party for his only grandson’s fifth birthday; he didn’t understand why his daughters were less than happy, until they told him that he had never taken any interest in birthday parties when they were children, and that he had always been unhappy when any concern of theirs pulled him away from his music.
There was another occasion, later in the book, when he thought they were doing the wrong thing for his grandson, but he accepted that he had to stand back, and maybe pick up the pieces afterwards ….
Meanwhile, it was still a struggle to come to terms with a life without his wife, with the knowledge that he was getting older, and with the that there were things in his life – things from the past – that he still had to try to put right.
There was another story set against this one.
The Fox-Talbot family home – Hartgrove Hall – was requisitioned during the war; and when it was handed back they found that its wartime occupation had done much damage to what was already a run down property. And so a father and his three very different sons – Fox was the youngest – were faced with the daunting prospect of restoring a house and land with means that were limited to say the least.
The house was beautifully evoked and gloriously described; everything is this story is. It is written in prose that is beautiful and lyrical, that is enriched by references to music and nature, and that evokes times and places so very well.
For the young Fox there was another complication: he fell in love with Edie Rose, the lovely sister who he met as his brother’s girlfriend, and who would become his brother’s wife.
How Fox got both the house and the girl is the mystery that is threaded through this story. But of course there is so much more here than mystery.
Fox was a wonderful narrator and I loved coming to know him as a young and an old man. He drew me into his story, he made me care about him and about what would happen, and I came to understand his hopes and his dreams, his loves and his fears.
I saw his world and the people whose lives touched his so very clearly.
I loved the way that his story spoke so profoundly about family, love, friendship, loss, grief, regret, acceptance …. so many things. There are times when it is heart-breaking, there are times when it is uplifting; and every emotion is pitch perfect.
I loved the tone. It was elegant, it was elegiac, and it suited the story that was unfolding so well.
It’s one of those stories that created a world that captivated me and that I really didn’t want to leave.
I can pick out some things that didn’t quite work. The ‘song collector’ concept that gives the book its title isn’t integrated as well as it might be. Edie Rose’s own story was a little under-written. But in the end those things really didn’t matter.
Sometimes a book speaks to you, and this one spoke to me.
I loved it.