Hello Book Lover,When Martina from Midas put out a call for book bloggers to take part in the Dylan Thomas Long List Blog Tour which she was organising I jumped at the chance. My interest lay in a couple of the books featured on the long list; ‘Virtuoso’ which I am reviewing today, as the saying goes it had me at…..”the dreamlike quality of David Lynch film” and ‘Black Car Burning’ which I will be reviewing next week (26th March) so definitely swing by for that one too.So, “what is ‘Virtuoso’ about?” I hear you ask, have a read of the synopsis and my thoughts below…
Synopsis. Zorka. She had eyebrows like her name.
1980s Prague. For Jana, childhood means ration queues and the smell of boiled potatoes on the grey winter air. But just before Jana’s seventh birthday, a new family moves in to their building: a bird-eyed mamka in a fox-fur coat, a stubble-faced papka – and a raven-haired girl named Zorka.
As the first cracks begin to appear in the communist regime, Zorka teaches Jana to look beyond their building, beyond Prague, beyond Czechoslovakia … and then, Zorka just disappears. Jana, now an interpreter in Paris for a Czech medical supply company, hasn’t seen her in a decade.
As Jana and Zorka’s stories slowly circle across the surreal fluctuations of the past and present, the streets of 1980s Prague, the suburbs of 1990s Wisconsin and the lesbian bars of present-day Paris, they lead inexorably to a mysterious door on the Rue de Prague…My Review.I want to get it out there straight off the bat, I bloody adored this book, it challenged me, it made me reread passages and chapters, it baffled me in place and I fell in love with some of the characters while others frustrated the life out of me.
“Besides, Jana had no patience for riddling when it came to men. There was always a condition to the suspense, and the anticipation was a finely nauseating as a string of salvia being drawn out slowly from the mouth, and the reveal usually revealed nothing more than men’s inherent privilege to withhold information.”
The narrative zigzags, weaves, switches backwards and forwards, bends and folds any way that Yelena commands it to. This really worked for me, I found it easy to follow once I got to grips with the characters. Zorka and Jana grow up in 1980’s communist Prague, Jana’s life is boring until the arrival of Zorka in her neighbourhood, her arrival sparks something in Jana; the turning point in her adolescence, her sexual awakening, her freedom. However it doesn’t last for long, when one night Zorka (after setting fire to her mother’s fur coat) makes a run for it and Jana never sees her friend again.Alongside, we follow the lives of two other women, Aimee, the younger beauty and Dominika, the older actress, whose relationship we see blossom and develop in the format of internet chat room discussion, I welcomed these short bursts embedded in the main narrative.If you would have asked me while I was reading it – “what’s it about?” I don’t think I would have been able to appropriately articulate my thoughts.As time has passed and I have had time to reflect upon my reading experience, ‘Virtuoso’ is about the lives of four women, their friendships and their exploration of identity, but it is much richer, deeper and complex, it is reality.Through communist Prague, Wisconsin in the 1990’s and present day Paris, Yelena’s writing gives the reader a great sense of time and place. From the neighbourhood gatherings in Prague to the headteacher’s office in Wisconsin, you could picture the place as clear as the text on the page. Her characterisation assisted in this sense, there wasn’t a character who I felt was unnecessary, all had their own place in the lives of these four women. I did have a soft spot for Zorka, I mean she would be a teacher’s nightmare and you would probably get a bit fed up with her on a night out, however her characterisation was incredible.’Virtuoso’ is a unique book, unlike anything I have read this year, come to think of it, I haven’t read anything like this in a long time, maybe ever! It mixes genres and pushes boundaries, poetry, art and surrealism collide to make beautiful prose, nuanced characterisation and rich narrative. I highly recommend if you are looking to expand your library with something very different, pick ‘Virtuoso’ up. I am definitely going to be looking up Yelena’s previous book, ‘The Natashas’, as I am keen to further explore her work.’Virtuoso’ is out now and published by Serpentstail. Keep your peepers peeled for the rest of March, as some fabulous bloggers will be sharing their thoughts and reviews on the rest of the titles on the Dylan Thomas long list, look out for the #SUDTP20, 12 titles, 66 readers and 96 reviews.A huge thank you to Martina at Midas Publishers for inviting to take part in the blog tour.
The shortlist is announced on 7th April 2020.
The winner is announced on 14th May 2020.