Reviews
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

'Everything she writes is worth reading' The Times
"SONGS OF TRIUMPHANT LOVE is an enthralling novel: I couldn't stop reading. I got deeper and deeper into the very real world Jessica Duchen has created and just had to find out how it would unravel. Jessica writes with an unpredictable and original voice and a dazzling perceptiveness, and I was hooked from the first page. A sensational achievement."
JOANNA LUMLEY
 
“Jessica Duchen writes about families, the arts and their sometimes devastating combination with such skill and passion that her books are unputdownable. It is very rarely that I find a new writer whose work I love so much.”
KATIE FFORDE
   

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Songs of Triumphant Love - Jessica Duchen - 22.7.2009
read more on the LEP
(Lancashire Evening Post)
website
SONGS OF TRIUMPHANT LOVE

Hodder & Stoughton, 2009
£19.99 hardback - £7.99 paperback

Jessica Duchen has music in her soul ... and she uses the intrinsic harmonies that so patently instruct her own life as the inspiration for her clever and compassionate novels.

Her latest and startlingly original book about the healing powers of music revolves around Russian author Ivan Turgenev's short story The Song of Triumphant Love.

Turgenev fell hopelessly in love with the 19th century opera singer Pauline Viardot who famously quit the stage at an early age because she lost her beautiful singing voice.

Taking the relationship between Turgenev and Viardot as her central theme, Duchen weaves the strands of their real lives into the fictional but parallel tale of an opera singer facing a career-ending illness....

Duchen's twin passions are music and writing and in Songs of Triumphant Love they work together in perfect harmony.

Terri is a masterful creation ... a larger-than-life diva with very human flaws but who has the guts and determination to take the world and the stage by storm.

And her story is not just a tale of universal human emotion but a symphony to the offbeat melodies of modern life.

Pam Norfolk (Lancashire Evening Post) 14.7.2009


The Bookbag review of Jessicas's novel Songs od Triumphant Love
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bookbag website

SONGS OF TRIUMPHANT LOVE

Hodder & Stoughton, 2009
£19.99 hardback - £7.99 paperback

There are some books you neither want nor are able to put down, and this is one of them. From the moment I cracked the spine I was drawn in by the lives of the characters… It is indeed a Song of triumphant love, and when that love triumphs, it is truly a sight to behold. The book borrows some ideas from its namesake, Turgenev's 1881 work The Song of Triumphant Love but it's more a case of using it as a muse than of even a hint of plagiarism. Duchen's book is an entirely new story rather than a rehashing of an original, and is a masterpiece in its own right.

…The characters are beautifully described, and flawed in a wonderfully real way…an exquisite, tightly woven tale of pleasure and pain, hope and suffering, optimism and defeat…solid, juicy, sink your teeth into writing. It's a book that takes you on an adventure you never want to end, makes you friends with characters you never want to leave. It was simply a joy to read.

Zoe Page, The Bookbag

"A touching story of family relationships" - Woman magazine
   
"A story about a mother and daughter, men and music. Throw in a long buried secret and a dose of love and intrigue and you have the perfect recipe for a great summer read." - The Glasgow Daily Record

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HUNGARIAN DANCES

Hodder & Stoughton, 2008
£19.99 hardback - £7.99 paperback

When disaster befalls her best friend, Karina feels compelled to question the very foundations of her existence. Born in Britain to Hungarian parents, wife to a very English husband and mother of a young son descended on one side from the lord of the manor and on the other from a dynasty of wandering minstrels, Karina feels she belongs in neither one world nor the other. But Rohan, a fellow violinist and fan of her own grandmother, encourages her to delve into her Hungarian family background and her Gypsy ancestry. Her discoveries will change her life forever.

Past and present collide in the intertwining stories of Karina and her grandmother, the celebrated violinist Mimi Rácz. Love and loss, displacement and continuity mingle in a moving panorama that spans eighty years and is permeated by the family’s one constant: the sound of the violin.

Hungarian Dances is a love story, a mystery and a tale of extraordinary personal transformation.

Gavin Esler writes: "A great love story and mystery set in – among other things – the world of Hungarian gypsies and passionate musicians. Duchen has a rare talent which is increasingly being recognised."


Read the first three pages of "Hungarian Dances " here
 

Interview in Hungarian
...click on logo to read Jessica's interview with Hungarian national paper Nepszabadsag about "Hungarian Dances". (in Hungarian)

Read the article
* Classic FM Magazine, September 2008: Writer's Passions *
Read Jessica's account of how the violin inspired /Hungarian Dances/...
(PDF file 700 kb)

Jessica Duchen's Top Ten literary Gypsies
Guardian - OnLine, 12 August 2008: Jessica's top ten literary Gypsies

Read Jessica's selection of the Top Ten Gypsies in Literature on the Guardian Unlimited website here .

South China Morning Post , September 2008

'In Jessica Duchen's third novel, music is everywhere, evoked tenderly as sound and memory... I suggest you give Hungarian Dances a whirl.'


The Independent, 08 August 2008

Like a stuffed palacsinta pancake, Duchen's novel of music and memory bulges with fruity treats. A rail crash in London forces Hungarian-descended violinist Karina, married to a stuffed-shirt lawyer, to rethink her life.

Enter the tale of grandma Mimi, also a violinist, and her Gypsy family, as Budapest suffers under the Nazi and Stalinist yokes. Karina, meanwhile, recovers her roots and her rhythms in a saga whose passion for music, Hungary and history sings out on every page.

  Boyd Tonkin

BBC Music Magazine, Proms Issue
Amo, amas, Amati! … Jessica Duchen could scarcely resist turning to love-and-the-violin for the subject of her third and most substantial novel to date…

In rooting for her past Karina discovers a network of unsettling displacements and dislocations – of human beings, emotions and musical instruments. Two love affairs, past and present, hurtle towards each other on two time-lines; and, as ever, Duchen shows herself more than adept at handling shifting time-scales, structures and tenses.

This is a far more complex plot than that of her first two novels, and Duchen judges the accelerando and the ritardando of the narrative pace to a nicety. It really is difficult to put the book down.…

But it’s Duchen’s compassionate human observation which carries her through – this, in addition to some obviously diligent research on the Hungarian-Gypsy musical tradition and on Budapest past and present. Those inside the musical world will relish sentences such as ‘orchestras are full of sheep eating shit’ (wonder where she got that one from…); those outside it will marvel at its fragility and volatility. And everyone will be encouraged to ponder just how far the search to ‘find oneself’ is selfish, unselfish or, impossibly and painfully, in a timeless dislocation somewhere between the two.

  Hilary Finch

Classical Music Magazine, 10 May 2008

"Jessica Duchen’s two previous novels have established her very real pedigree as a writer blessed with a beguiling fluency and an entirely believable handling of 21st-century human dilemmas, set within a musical dimension…Mimi’s story provides a lengthy parallel story-line, interwoven with the present in a sensitive and convincing way....Duchen does the complexity of human relationships and dependencies very well indeed, not to mention the less than ideal compromises which are the stuff even of close human intercourse. The essentially musical matrix (including a cameo appearance from Bartók) will not bother a classical music enthusiast one jot, and hopefully will not deter the musically illiterate either. The human interest is strong enough. Amusingly, not least for the general reader, there is plenty of sharp-edged commentary on the UK’s creaking transport system – closely woven into the narrative, of course.The prose is as flowing and rhythmically satisfying as we have come to expect. Duchen regularly displays a really telling eye for a phrase such as …the reference to the outcome of a failed relationship: ‘Old love turned to stone by lawyers’. Helpfully, there is a guide to Hungarian pronunciation and also a bibliography with plenty of Hungarian historical leads. And we can also look forward to a forthcoming CD from fiddler Philippe Graffin featuring plenty of the music mentioned in the novel. All highly recommended."
  Andrew Green

 
ALICIA'S GIFT
‘The devil in this book is in the detail, the accumulation of every detail that disables middle class life when the unexpected lands, in this case a musically gifted child. You turn the pages with a tremble, in case you crush the fragile family. Unbearably real.'

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
15/03/2007
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You are invited to read the first three pages of "Alicia's Gift " here

BBC Music Direct September 2007 - Review by Barry Witherden

Jessica Duchen’s latest novel concerns Guy and Kate, once talented musicians when students but neither of whom have pursued musical careers. Their long-awaited first baby, Victoria, is born prematurely and dies within days. Adrian, the second child, lost in their unhealed grief, is emotionally neglected from the start, but when Alicia arrives she is invested with the unbearable weight of maternal fears, hopes and expectations. Expected to live out the frustrated dreams of her mother and piano-teacher, both mourning dead daughters and still-born performing careers, Alicia is blessed (or cursed) with perfect pitch, the ability to play any piece by ear, and synaesthesia.

Duchen’s excellent first novel, Rites of Spring, peopled largely by self-centred, ill-intentioned characters, watched a family sliding towards disintegration. Here again, no one really listens to anyone else, but they mostly mean well, which makes the impending destruction all the more painful. Alicia and the kindred spirits she meets after becoming the BBC Young Musician of the Year rightly see music as an end in itself, but the adults tend to see it as a path to fame, fortune or sexual conquest.

As in Rites of Spring, Duchen demonstrates a gift for vividly sketching, with a few deft lines the environment in which the characters move as well as their internal emotional landscape, and again her compassion for her characters is persuasive. Near the end there are a couple of plot developments heavily signposted from about halfway through, that struck me as too neat, but they do contribute to the catharsis which she builds towards, and provides, so effectively.

Barry Witherden

Classic FM Magazine August 2007 - Review by Anna Britten
If your child seems headed for a glorious career in the arts, how hard should you push her or him? Having explored a similar topic in last year's enjoyable Rites of Spring, pianist and music journalist Duchen considers the impact a prodigy can have on an average middle-class family in her second novel. The Buxton-based Bradleys boast at their core the pitch-perfect young pianist Alicia. As her fame grows so does the domestic pressure, and over the course of 15 years, all close to her see their lives turned upside down. Duchen throws adultery, bereavement, lesbianism, synaesthesia, first love and more into a plot with as many dramatic peaks and troughs as a Rachmaninov concerto. A beach read con brio.


Music Teacher Magazine May 2007 - Review by Clare Stevens
Duchen balances the conventions of the genre with the authority of a writer who really knows her subject. I felt I knew her characters intimately and was walking with them into their houses and offices, into concert halls and across the Derbyshire moors and dales. 'Alicia's Gift' is a wonderful read. But make sure you keep the Kleenex handy when you tackle it.

READ the full review (pdf file/1mb)

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RITES OF SPRING
‘Jessica Duchen's debut novel is captivating, imaginative and fascinating. As a musician and a mother, I recognized many of the scenarios and found the questions that were posed very poignant, both from a musical and personal perspective. The pace builds powerfully to a dramatic and ultimately very moving conclusion. Completely gripping!’
Tasmin Little (from Hodder Headline website)
27/12/2005 04:00:20

You are invited to read the first three pages of "Rites of Spring" here


Young Minds Magazine 85

"Many themes intermingle in the story: thwarted ambition, vanished dreams, broken promises, the competing demands of family and self. The outcome stresses compromise, along with the constant rebirth of hope...The novel should appeal to adults and teenagers and, in having a kind of happy ending, could for some light the way out of despair."
  Alison Taylor

BBC Music Magazine June 2006


...The novel accelerates towards a traumatic crisis, and we urge Lisa on as she tries to rescue Liffy from her own personal Erl-King. Duchen skilfully enlists our compassion and understanding, and her not-inconsiderable achievement was to make me empathise, as well as sympathise, with the central characters.
Barry Witherden

Eve Magazine, September 2006
'...an imaginative novel...with themes of miscommunication, perfectionism and adolescence.'


Closer Magazine


Adam and Sasha appear to have the perfect life - good jobs, a nice home, money and three perfect children. But as their marriage begins to unravel, their ballet-crazy daughter starts starving herself - and her parents are too preoccupied to notice. A haunting, heartbreaking novel.

Inspired by Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, in which a young girl dances herself to death, Jessica Duchen has crafted a riveting drama set within the arts world. The story centres around 13-year-old Liffy, who, as her arty parents' marriage crumbles, retreats into her imagination. Meanwhile, across town, her aunt struggles through a tempestuous affair with a famous Russian pianist. The neatly-composed plot charges to a climax as steadily as Ravel's Bolero, with Duchen capturing well the inner world of the pubescent girl and the London classical music scene. For fans of Joanna Trollope and Russian composers alike.

Anna Britten, Classic FM Magazine, June 2006

....... Rites of Spring draws on the image of a young girl dancing herself to death in Stravinsky's ballet to explore the impulse towards anorexia common in so many teenage girls today.

Duchen paints a vivid and utterly bleak picture of modern family life, poignantly depicting Liffy's increased isolation as the people around her become so preoccupied and alienated from one another that one of the central characters, observing from a distance, "wonders how people who are individually so bright, so intelligent, so nice, so creative, can collectively paper over all their problems".

A sensitive and thought-provoking novel that will resonate all the more for those with musical leanings.
.
.Muso - the Music Magazine that rewrites the score
......................

Review on Helen Radice's blog
http://harpist.typepad.com.
Rites of Spring

How many of you still haven't read Jessica's Rites of Spring? I pre-ordered my copy. I have never been so organised about anything in my life.

Read reviews and the first three pages here; my review's below.

You can read Rites of Spring as a tale of a family's breakdown under modern pressure. Its characters unfold intriguingly alongside a pacy plot and moments of real poetry. Yet it isn't their familiar shopping at Waitrose, holidaying in Greece, or strolling through Richmond Park that hold our attention. No aga-saga, this novel is about the problems facing the human spirit – not just those who make it in the end, but those who don't.

Like Duchen herself, jointly writer and musician, the novel spans the creative arts. Its various artists (sensitive and introspective as they are) illuminate the crucial focus on our souls. There is a world-famous concert pianist; a respectable music academic; a talented artist who is airbrushing porn to support his family; a once promising dancer who had to give it up when she got pregnant, but is none the less carving out a good career for herself as a cultural commentator. None of these characters lack talent or application - or even opportunity, middle-class as they are - but they enjoy different levels of success. Most poignant of all is thirteen year old Liffy, desparate to be a ballet dancer, but whose joints will never flex the right way to enter the profession.

Punctuating their stories is an unpredictable primal power, a force of nature, kind or unkind, and with the wild double terror and beauty of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. It pulls us in unexpected directions, like Stravinsky's deliberately awkward ballerinas. Just as we cannot control, but are instead controlled by it, the novel's artists need luck, as well as talent and application, to realise their dreams.

Alongside the central significance of her title, Duchen's overwhelming question already springs out on the cover: “When does a free spirit become a lost soul?”. On fortune's wheel, the characters nonetheless have a choice: bitter self-destruction, or to live. Liffy has to choose self-control, or a giddy sense of purity, from the anorexia that threatens to kill her, or to accept the ballet career she'll never have “isn't the be all and end all, is it?”.

Choose Life, urged Irvin Welsh, but it isn't just junkies who find it impossible. Music, or any art form, is a mistress like Stravinsky's score: savage, frightening. glorious. We can grasp, usually, that successful artists put their real lives second, like the novel's ever travelling pianist Vladimir. We tend to forget the same agony faced by those with equal passion and without the luck. At its heart, the novel (indirectly, but powerfully) understands Benjamin Britten's sadly knowing: “It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness and of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love.”

The Rite of Spring dances a girl to death, a sacrifice to please the God of Spring. Rites of Spring stops a girl dancing, in the end, so she can live, and brings the two characters who think mostly of nothing but music a child. The will to live, and the drive for life perpetually to renew itself, courses alongside the individuals disappointed along the way.

What we want defines our lives. Sometimes we get it, and sometimes not. Private sadnesses lurk in our shadows, part of reality. There is also something always turning towards the sun.

Read the blog entry on Helen's website here

RITES OF SPRING - Review on Amazon website - Link

Sensitive, moving and marvellous 23 July 2006
I read this first in hardback; now I'm buying the paperback for all my friends' birthdays.

I just couldn't put it down. It's not really a book about anorexia, but about the sensitive balance of dynamics within the family and what can happen when they're out of kilter.

Liffy, 13, is an adorable, vulnerable heroine. She and her pretentious mother, bereaved father, lovelorn aunt, and infuriating twin brothers feel like real people who are struggling to cope with what life throws at them, as we all do. And the cats are wonderful.

I found 'Rites of Spring' sensitive, beautifully written, compulsively readable and very moving. One review, quoted in the paperback, compared it to Joanna Trollope, but I'd say it's several cuts above, and incidentally you don't need to know anything about classical music to enjoy it. I hope we'll have lots more from this fascinating writer.
(K.Shelley)


RITES OF SPRING (Review - Blue Badge Guide Post - February 2006)

In Jessica Duchen’s novel, out this month, London is more than a backdrop: it is silent witness to a quintessentially urban family breakdown.

Something is going drastically wrong with Adam and Sasha Levy’s home life in their rambling
house off the South Circular in East Sheen, a short walk from Richmond Park where Sunday
afternoons are spent with their daughter and twin boys.

In Waitrose shopping aisles and Queen’s Park sitting rooms, Jessica Duchen delicately observes the roots of family tension rumbling just below the surface of marriages in Tony Blair’s Britain. The Levys seem a familiar aspirational couple, steering a course between hectic, high-powered careers and successful family life. But Rites of Spring finds the Levys prey to the one thing they can’t cope with - a family death.

With the lightest touch of irony, Duchen traces each crack in the family’s structure as it appears - a concert at the Wigmore Hall, a musicians’ party in Hampstead, an abortive shopping expedition to Harrods, until the whole family slides into a vacuum pack of self absorbed individuals no longer able to communicate or comprehend each other in any situation. Not even mobile phone calls or messages ever seem to get through.

Daughter Olivia, “Liffy”, an uncomprehending thirteen year old and would-be ballerina, comes off worst in the dysfunctional world her parents have unwittingly created. Via her musicologist aunt’s specialist interest in Stravinsky, spooky folklore tales filter into the spaces in her heart and mind vacated by her parents’ virtual withdrawal of care. Duchen pitches us into Adam and Sasha’s hapless mid-life paths of self-discovery, while they fail to recognise that their beloved daughter has embarked on a journey through her own rite of bodily self-sacrifice.

Jessica Duchen’s name may be known to the music-loving Blue Badge Guide contingent as a regular contributor to the Independent and BBC Music Magazine. She has previously published
biographies of composers Gabriel Faure and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. But this book, her first foray into fiction, has already been rewarded by a two-book deal with Hodder and Stoughton.

Blue Badge Guide Post
(the magazine of the stringently trained Blue Badge London tourist guides)

RITES OF SPRING
(Classical Music Magazine, 17 March 2007)
'Duchen writes with a rhythm and pace that embrace a tellingly perceptive and articulate portrayal of the nuances of the human condition, richly detailed and yet always fluent...We shall read more from her.'

GABRIEL FAURÉ
Fauré himself would probably have enjoyed handling this discreetly sensual paperback, with its muted silver cover and beautifully designed text on creamy paper. The Phaidon series on 20th-century composers aims to appeal to the general reader and music enthusiast. Jessica Duchen's book certainly does this, but goes beyond that to appeal to, and satisfy, a reader already well-versed in Fauré's works.
BBC Music Magazine

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BOOK OF THE MONTH
An intimate portrait of Fauré's life and works entices the reader into the world of this charming composer. The book should have wide appeal; it is immensely informative and enjoyable. Jessica Duchen portrays the composer in the context of his social and political, as well as musical times, rather than focusing on technical analysis, making it accessible to anyone who would like to further explore the life of this fascinating composer. This new biography provides a very involving, wonderful read, and is highly recommended.
Classical Source.com
Jessica Duchen is fully alive to [Fauré's] value and to the difficulties that have beset his reputation and performances of his music, and her pleas, couched for the most part in the kind of literate English which must nowadays be regarded as exceptional, are clearly grounded not only in a love but in a close knowledge of his works.
Gramophone
 
…in this fascinating biography Jessica Duchen reveals through letters and anecdotal evidence the undercurrents of passion and individuality otherwise latent in Fauré's character…The fact that Fauré managed not to be swayed by these strong influences [Wagner] is perhaps indicative of the innovative and forward-looking nature of his compositions and personality so splendidly portrayed by Duchen in this beautifully-constructed biography…Duchen provides a thorough and fascinating exploration of Fauré's life and work, his personal relationships and in particular the social, political and economic history of France during this period.
Classical Music Magazin
e

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Inside London
The complementary text by Jessica Duchen is both readable and informative and adds to the book by giving a conceptual framework for the photographic images.'
INscape
  

  

 
ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD
'It is an intriguing life story and in Jessica Duchen's highly readable new biography, the first comprehensive book on the man in English, he emerges as a significant figure in early 20th-century Austro-German music…Duchen ably conveys the musical characteristics of all Korngold's major works.'
BBC Music Magazine

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'…lucid and persuasive' - Birmingham Post
I think you did an outstanding job in characterizing my father, relating everything worth knowing with an astounding degree of accuracy…You have created a lively, sympathetic portrait, which I, at least, found difficult to put down. Your interest and your work are greatly appreciated and I can't thank you enough.
Ernst W. Korngold