Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests





Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Big Music by Kirsty Gunn (2012, 496 pages)


I have read Kirsty Gunn's The Keepsake three times.  I have posted on it twice and hope to read it again in 2014.   I think it belongs in the Sontag category of "High Art".  The Big Music, twice as long as The Keepsake, is a very challenging, intricately constructed modernist tour de force set in the highlands of Scotland (where New Zealand born Gunn now lives).  There are excellent very insightful reviews of The Big Music in online editions of majors newspapers which I suggest interested buyers read.  

The central thing in the book, called "The Big Music", is Scottish bagpipe music.  If you know little or nothing about the history or the musical theory and methods of bagpipes, you certainly will after completing The Big Music.  Gunn's work is a deep meditation on the nature of music and through this that of art.  It is also a lesson in how to read a novel.

The novel is presented to us as if were a collection of material Gunn found relating to a famous family of bagpipers.  For generations they have composed music for bagpipes and instructed others advanced techniques of the instrument.  Gunn uses the material as if were the basis for an academic treatise.  Interspaced with personal notes from many members of the family are historical and theoretical notes about bagpipe playing.  

I read this book twice, once three months ago and once this week.   There are many wonderful sentences and paragraphs about loneliness and the Scottish Highlands.  The bagpipe is superbly equipped for expressing pain and loss.  It was played as troops went into battle and at the funerals of kings and presidents.    It's sound is like no other instrument.  

There is a lot of fascinating historical information in The Big Music.  

The Big Music is a very challenging book which should be read slowly and thoughtfully.  I hope to reread it in a year or two.  


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