” As much as she loved to watch Jessie and the other children, all that lay ahead of her was an evening of pretending: that sitting alone in the audience didn’t bother her, that all the couples around her had nothing she envied, that the visible happiness of Nicholas and Remy and their baby-to-be did not offend her. The effort of appearing unbothered was itself exhausting. ” (Part II Ch.9, p.215)
Sight Reading concerns the story of four interconnected characters amid Boston’s classical music scene over the span of twenty some years. The book begins with a chance encounter of Hazel and Remy on a warm spring day in the present—their first meeting in years. Remy is a gifted violinist who is married to the composer Nicholas Elko, Hazel’s ex-husband. So the book trickles back in time to when Nicholas is newly hired to conduct the orchestra at a conservatory in Boston. He is hoping to settle down with his wife Hazel and young daughter Jessie after an early career touring Europe. He also wants to take advantage of the job’s flexibility to begin what he expects to be his magnum opus.
Things she had once thought curious or romantic become simply an inconvenience. Following Nicholas from England to Finland, Italy to Hungary, Belgium to France (with stints in Texas and Vancouver in between), something else had changed; Nicholas’s love for her was no longer enough to cut through her loneliness, through the palpability of being so far away. (Part I, Ch.2, p.44)
It’s gradually becoming known that the serendipitous meeting of Nicholas and Hazel back in the college housing office is all the sparkle they have. They’re totally unmatched. All that Hazel regards as romantic—the constant relocation and the pursuit of artistic perfection—becomes a dread. She tries her best to fill the role of faculty wife while grappling with her own restlessness and sense of isolation. The dynamic of their marriage changes when Nicholas meets and falls in love with Remy, a talented and ambitious young violinist at the conservatory.
Remy and Nicholas to be as hurt and humiliated as as she had been. Because there had to be some kind of retribution. In order to keep believing in God (for why would He punish honest, clean-living Hazel, who, as frustrated as she had been with Nicholas’s constant travel and general thoughtlessness, had never, ever cheated on him? What had she done to deserve the disgrace of being the most unpleasant of things, a divorced woman?) (Part II Ch.1, p.115)
Sight Reading continues to follow the intricate and complex relationships following Nicholas and Hazel’s divorce. Nicholas confronts a compositional writer’s block, and without his knowing isolating himself from his new wife. Remy, despite her hard work, chafes against the grind of a somewhat subservient position in the Boston Symphony, the second violinist. Her life becomes a predictable routine, one of endless rehearsal. Her husband’s narcissism brings her closer to his friend Yoni, an Israeli composer who is a womanizer with a secret. Hazel has no luck in dating life. She morphs into a sad, self-denigrating divorcee who has a prevailing sensation of being alone.
As each thrives to achieve something solid and true in life—be it a position, a defining piece of work, or a lasting love, they find renewal in surprising ways. Readers alike will find fulfillment at seeing how these beleaguered characters come to terms with themselves and bridge the gap between hope and reality, if they can trudge through Kalotay’s tedious plot and excessive musical descriptions that mar the novel’s flow. Also whenever I seem to get a handle on her characters, they totally go off the tangent. She succeeds in intertwining symphony and married love, but the book does not impress me as literary fiction.
352 pp. Harper Collins. Hardback. [
Read/Skim/ Toss] [ Buy/Borrow]