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 Janice 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.
Reaching her prime before the dawn of recorded sound, Clara Schumann, an acclaimed virtuoso pianist who had her own international career in European concert halls in the latter half of the 19th century, is now, sadly, only known by report as the perfect champion of her husband Robert's music. However, the bare bones of her biography 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 and whose short life ended 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.
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, Amazon.co.uk