Sonata by Blair McDowell - guest review by Raymond Mathiesen aka @Book_Promotion


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The music of life: practice, performance, the closing notes

Sayuri McAllister left home as a very young adult to study cello performance in Europe and then study there. Now she has returned home as a 29 year old to find her family home in Vancouver, Canada, much changed and in turmoil. The most prominent upset is that the family mansion, Point Grey, has been burgled and “two million” dollars’ worth of jewellery stolen. To her surprise Sayuri finds that the burglary is being investigated by an old high school flame, Detective Michael Donovan. How will Sayuri adjust to her family’s changes? Should she pick up loose threads with Michael? What is the secret to the mystery of the burglary?

Blair McDowell has extensive experience as both a musician and a university music lecturer and this book draws upon that knowledge to create a realistic picture of a professional musician’s life, particularly the stresses of true dedication. Sonata moves along skilfully, never boring the reader. The book is of mixed genre: part romance/erotica, part crime/mystery/thriller. McDowell is equally skilled at both styles and her novel is quite a success.

Sonata’s main theme is balance. We have many demands, needs and goals in our life and amongst all of these pressures we need to find some way of devoting time to all of them. Career takes up much of our time, but as social beings we need family and friends, as well as relaxation and entertainment. But how is this to be done? Is it really achievable?

Closely related to this is the theme of clear thinking. In our careers we need to rationally weigh things up, but do we always need to be like that? Surrender to the moment, even just acceptance of the moment, can be a great release and a great source of joy. Clear thinking, at times can become cold rationality and needs to give way to a more holistic approach to life, including our whole selves: our emotions, our longings, our unmet needs.

McDowell’s characters are certainly adequately motivated. Sayuri is driven by her dedication to her music and feels a deep need to be “in charge” (Ch.2) of her life. As a child she was “lonely” (Ch. 2) and we wonder if that is still the case. She is, for a 29 year old woman, also rather surprisingly na├»ve about other aspects of life. She has, for example, never had a stable home of her own, living out of suit cases as she travels on the concert tours circuit. This aspect of her character makes her rather interesting and unusual, and raises a ‘parent’s concern’ for her in the mature reader and an immediate connection in the younger reader. Sayuri is certainly a likable woman and we immediately care about her and want the best for her. Michael is likable also, particularly with his boyish “lopsided grin” (Ch. 2 & Ch. 11).

He is a guy with ordinary desires and goals that men can immediately relate to. At high school he was a ‘jock’. He is successful in a moderate way, having achieved his personal goals, and has his moments of real command and assurance. In Chapter 3, decked out in his new suit, he is compared to “James Bond” and indeed there are moments when this ordinary police man shines. Michael is motivated by simple love, but with a touch of guilt and regret. McDowell, as you can see, has made her characters complex enough to seem real. As, for example, Sayuri comments, Michael is “a study in contrasts” (Ch. 2).

Sayuri has an arc of development that maintains our interest through the book as we wonder exactly what each next decision will be as she comes to terms with her new circumstances. McDonald has included some interesting comparisons and contrasts between characters, such as between Sayuri and Hugh James, Alyssa’s brother (Ch. 5). These contrasts help us see how to achieve the right balance in life that the book is so much concerned with.

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