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Spell the Month in Books: November 2023  link up

piles of unread books

Spell the Month in Books is a fiendishly difficult challenge this month. Jana from Reviews From the Stacks who hosts the meme, has set a theme of music/musicians. I’ve done my best to use only books I’ve read or that are on my TBR. I did have to get very creative with one letter however.

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

I think I deserve bonus points for this title because it references a form of musical composition but also has a music-related sub title: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. Nocturnes consists of interconnected stories organised (dare I say “orchestrated”??) as if they are movements in a piece of music which begins and ends in the same place. There’s a clever harmony between the stories but ultimately I wasn’t wowed by this book. (see my review here)

Orfeo by Richard Powers

I bought this when it was long-listed for the Booker Prize in 2017 but have never got around to reading this book which is based on the myth of Orpheus. Powers’ main character is Peter Els, a composer who has established a home microbiology laboratory to study surprising musical patterns. His activities arouse the suspicions of he Department of Homeland Security and Peter becomes the focal point of internet gossip which labels him as a bio-terrorist.

The Satanic Verses  by Salman Rushdie

Rushdie’s controversial novel is here purely because of the word “verses” in the title. Though Rushdie was referencing elements of the Quran I’m taking a liberal interpretation and using it in the sense of verses in a song.

The book has been on my shelves since the late 1980s I’ve never summoned up the courage to read it having struggled to get through Rushdie’s other “masterpiece” – Midnight’s Children.

An Equal Music by Vickram Seth

I read this many, many years ago having enjoyed Seth’s earlier chunkster “A Suitable Boy“. An Equal Music is the story of two musicians. One is a successful violinist who plays with a quartet in London.The other is a pianist he once loved but lost. By a twist of fate they are reunited and begin a secret affair. But their relationship threatens to derail their careers.

Music and Silence by Rose Tremain

In the year 1629, a young English lutenist named Peter Claire arrives at the Danish Court to join King Christian IV’s Royal Orchestra. From the moment when he realises that the musicians perform in a freezing cellar underneath the royal apartments, Peter Claire understands that he’s come to a place where the opposing states of light and dark, good and evil, are waging war to the death.


This was such a disappointing book that I lost all enthusiasm for Rose Tremain’s novels. I only returned to her because the book club chose to read Sacred Country and it was wonderful (my review can be found here). So now I’m thinking that she deserves another chance.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

My review of Bel Canto concluded that it was “an absorbing and finely tuned novel about the the various ways in which human connections can be forged, even in the most unlikely of circumstances and situations.” The unlikely situation in this case is a guerrilla attack on the vice presidential mansion in an unnamed South American state. Among the hostages is a world- renowned soprano. During a month-long stand off between the guerrilla group and the government, she keeps both the hostages and their guards entertained.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

I really struggled to find a title matching the second E in the name of the month. Fortunately I remembered that Station Eleven does have a slight connection to music. Mandel’s novel is set in the years after a  swine flu pandemic, known as the “Georgia Flu,” has devastated the world, killing most of the population.  One group of survivors come together in the Travelling Symphony, a troupe of musicians and actors who tour the  Great Lakes region, performing Shakespeare plays and classical music,

The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott

Jewel in the Crown, part 1 of The Raj Quartet

I admit that Paul Scott’s series of novels set in India in the years building up to independence, have zero connection to music or musicians. Nor do any of the titles that make up his sequence begin with the letter R. But the series is known as The Raj Quartet so I’m declaring that a good enough match.

If you’ve never read these books, you are missing out on a hugely impressive set of four books that examine the complex attitudes of the British in India and their relationship with those they govern. There is a fifth title, Staying On, which focuses on a couple who choose to stay in the country after Independence.

If you fancy having a go at Spell the Month, you’ll find all the info you need on the website of the host, Reviews From the Stacks. The theme for December will be “Winter or Christmas”. I’m going to have to go for the winter theme since I can think of only two books I’ve read that relate to Christmas — A Christmas Carol (of course) and Little Women which begins at that time of the year.

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