Clara's grappling with the rigidities of historical character and its conjuring of a totally alien milieu--the German music scene of the mid-19th century--are all the more impressive given that Galloway's previous prize-winning novels, The Trick is to Keep Breathing and Foreign Parts, were much less ambitious in scope, dealing with contemporary lives, of a young Scottish drama teacher and two women on a driving holiday in France respectively. But Galloway's regular readers will recognise in Clara many of the features of the earlier novels and of her short story collections Blood and Where you Find It-- show a deep concern with psychology, especially psychology pushed to its extremes, and a deliberate eschewing of sentiment even when the narrative screams out for it, underpinned by a sly humour.
Reaching her prime before the dawn of recorded sound, Clara Schumann is now sadly only known by report as the perfect champion of her husband Robert's music, an acclaimed virtuoso pianist who had her own international career in European concert halls in the latter half of the 19th century. The bare bones of her biography however hint at hidden depths: the mother, Marianne Tromlitz, who left her husband and daughter for another man; the father, Friedrich Wieck, who nurtured her career single-mindedly; the marriage, violently opposed by her father, to Robert Schumann, who soon fell into depression, ending his short life in an asylum. Janice Galloway has taken full advantage of the raw materials of the first half of this extraordinary saga, to produce a rich and compelling fictional life.
In this novel there's also a deep understanding of the social politics of Clara's background, most impressively done through her father's social climbing, hidden behind an apparently classless artistry. Galloway renders all this in an indulgent, exquisitely limpid prose: the end result is an outstanding novel, the most ambitious and most impressive of her career to date. --Alan Stewart