Review: Puccini's Ghosts


Lila duCann, an ageing opera singer, has returned home to her little Scottish village to bury her father. Burnhead is the kind of small town with a static and nosy population that Lila is extremely scornful of and has tried to dissociate herself from for most of her adult life. Now, returning home, she finds that her father's death has affected her more that she thought and unbidden memories of her last summer there start coming back to haunt her. The summer that she discovered first love, the summer that changed her life forever, the summer that her family, in order to broaden the operatic horizons of Burnhead, decided to stage an amateur spectacle of Puccini's Princess Turandot. Through Lila's flashbacks and memories we come to be acquainted with her mother Fleur, an ambitious ex-opera singer, her clueless father Raymond, Fleur's brother Uncle George, whom Lila has romanticised and worshipped most of her life and Joe, Uncle George's student, come to sing the principal male lead in Princess Turandot. Gradually, a trajectory unfolds of the tragic, eventful summer and an outcome that will change and shape the rest of her life.

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Puccini's Ghosts by Morag Joss is touted as psychological suspense a la Ruth Rendell but the events of the summer and the big reveal arent really that dramatic. A frail tension exists in the story only because the protagonist who is an unsophisticated, unloved 15 year old doesnt really understand the undercurrents that mark different events that happen around her. But, we as readers have a pretty good idea of what most of the skeletons-in-closets are going to be and so the overall suspense is pretty much lost.

I was very distracted with the author's use of the first person and third person voice, initially it was used to indicate the present and flashback mode, but these gradually become interchangeable as reality blurs for Lila and this didnt really improve the reading experience for me. The author does succeed in finely bringing out the extreme unhappiness of almost every character involved with Lila. However, the larger drawbacks of Puccini's Ghosts like the absence of an engrossing plot and the presence of mainly unlikeable, unsympathetic characters lead me to give this book 2 swans and a not recommended tag.


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