Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Music in fiction

I was going to blog this weekend about the perils of including references to music in novels. However Clare Morrall has done a better job of it already in the Guardian today.

I think a key observation is here:

In his author's note to An Equal Music, Vikram Seth says 'Music to me is dearer even than speech'. This puzzled me at first. Why then, in he an author not a musician?

I feel this about some modern writers, who seem to value other media much more than the written word. Some awful books, like Da Vinci Code, read like an account by someone watching a made-for-TV movie. Others reference songs or artists as if to bring their emotional resonance into the text, as if the authors do not trust the written word alone.

I've been audio-ing 'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell, one strand of which is about a brilliant musician/young composer of the 1930s. I've also been reading 'House of Lost Souls' by FG Cottam, which is a modern British ghost story, about a 1980s journalist who gets sucked up by the stories or spirits of some pre-war fascists and satanists.

Mitchell describes music well. Clare Morrall quotes him thus:

Delius' Air and Dance is 'a syrupy Florentine piece, but its drowsy flute is rather successful'

The point here isn't to steal emotional force from Delius, but to tell us something about the character. And I (not knowing the music) can still get the point.

In contrast as I read The House of Lost Souls, I felt that FG Cottam was inserting the names of songs rather willy-nilly into the novel, like the sound track of Ashes to Ashes, to invoke the atmosphere of the 80s. This was starting to concern me, and the next chapter began as follows:

He met Lucinda Grey in the upstairs bar of the Cambridge pub one sunlit evening in the warm spring of 1983. When he walked into the bar, Crystal Gayle was singing 'Don't it make my brown eyes blue' on the jukebox. He remembered that. It could have been Van Morrison singing 'Brown Eyed Girl' or Julie London singing 'Cry me a river', or Nina Simone singing 'My baby just cares for me'. The upstairs bar at the Cambridge had just about the best jukebox in London. But it was Crystal Gayle.

Please... this is ridiculous. Trust your own writing. You don't need to steal resonance from the music.
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