Hilda Greer discovered the violin at the age of seven, when she attended a performance by the virtuoso Phillip Manns. She believed him with a child’s faith when he declared himself the reincarnation of Niccolò Paganini and then dashed from the stage, his mind in ruins. Manns disappeared from the music world after that catastrophic performance, but Hilda’s love affair with the violin was just beginning.
Nearly a decade after his breakdown, Phillip Manns lives a reclusive life, safely insulated against the temptations of music—until a former colleague begs him to teach at a nearby conservatory. It’s there that he meets Hilda Greer, who’s come to audition at the insistence of her mother. She plays for him the piece that started it all: Paganini’s Le Streghe, or Witches’ Dance.
Entranced by the character of Hilda’s playing and unable to resist the siren call of music, Phillip takes Hilda under his wing. The two start a witches’ dance of their own, a whirlwind that sweeps them toward the International Paganini Competition. When their curtain falls, one will bask in the music world’s acclaim—and the other’s world will be shattered completely. (taken from Netgalley)
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on October 22nd.
Aside from pointing out that a book might be too harsh for some, I don’t use trigger warnings. In this case,I think I really need to have an official warning, though, because this book is incredibly harsh at times.
**Trigger warning: self-harm, sexual assault**
From moment one, I was drawn into this book. Haunting and beautiful, it’s so lyrically written, I could almost hear the violins playing. I’ve never wished for anything remotely resembling musical talent as much as I did during the beginning of this book.
The characters are so multi-faceted! Phillip Manns was a musical prodigy who, after announcing that he was Pajanini, hid from the world, cutting himself off from all music. He didn’t realize how much he missed it until he found an old record player at a yard sale. Listening to it again, he opens that door into the hidden, flawed parts of himself, and starts down a road that is dangerous to his health and his sanity.
Enter Hilda: a brilliant violinist in her own right, she was at the performance that ruined Phillip Manns’ career. Many years later, she’s still playing, but struggles with severe stage fright and low self-esteem in general. It’s just Hilda and her mother, her musician dad having left when she was young.
Claire (the mom) and Hilda have a very complex and unhealthy relationship. Claire has always had a string of lovers, turning herself into whoever she thinks they want her to be. She needs to feel seen, oftentimes at the expense of her daughter.
One of Phillip’s old friends convinces him to try teaching the violin during a program that Hilda has just enrolled in. She plays the Witches’ Dance, and Phillip recognizes not just her skill but her passion. Things build from that moment.
This book is not comfortable. I skipped certain scenes because I knew they’d be too much for me. But, the author made me care deeply about the story and the characters. She easily showed the ripple effect one small circumstance can cause. I saw the moment that Phillip’s life derailed, and the choices that came closer and closer to taking what he had left.
I saw poor Hilda, and the things that could have destroyed her. I saw her broken relationships with her parents and I wanted to fix them. I understood how she was taken advantage of so completely, mistaking love of music for love of something else. I so badly wanted her to realize her own worth.
There was a certain moment, where someone triumphed despite instead of because, that nearly brought me to tears. And that’s saying something. This is an incredibly harsh book, but it’s stunningly gorgeous. If you can handle reading about harsher circumstances, I highly suggest you pick this book up. It’ll stay with me for quite a while.