An Ungrateful Instrument by Michael Meehan [4/10]

An Ungrateful Instrument” is an unabashedly literary gothic tale set in the 17th Century court of Louis XIV. It is a classic tale of mad father atop trodden-upon son, with the father a composer of virtuosic, never-written-down music for the viola da gamba (which seems like a small but fretted cello) torturing virtuosity out of his son. Combine that crazed setup with the narrator being the never-speaking daughter, and all the elements are in place for a rip-roaring grand tragedy. But the author’s tone is a stilted formal one that disengaged this reader, and a suite of chapters showcasing a viol-maker in the woods describing how to manufacture the instrument flushes out any dramatic staging. In the end, An Ungrateful Instrument offers an interesting portrait of the times, and a few impressive set pieces, but proves to be over-ornate and clumsy.

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