Tuesday, August 06, 2013

[Books] Book Look: Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, by Wesley Stace

Book Look: Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, by Wesley Stace: Well, this is a doozy. An early 20th century music critic finds his personal and professional life entangled with a prodigal young talent named Charles Jessold. Out of friendship and love of music, the Critic shepherds the Talent into a career of inestimable promise, even enduring the Talent's imprisonment in WW1 and subsequent chronic drunkenness upon return. All this comes crashing down as the Talent self-destructs in a swirl of adultery and murder. In return for his efforts the Critic seems to to get a small, but important, credit as an artist by contributing the libretto to an opera composed by the Talent. The Critic briefly gets to be a creator instead of consumer, to raise his status to contributor from mere judge, one who does instead of one who talks. (Note I am of the belief that as necessary and valuable good critics can be, they do in fact desire for a taste of the artistry of their subjects. It is easy for an artist to take up criticism, they are perceived to have a pre-existing credential as someone who's been there. The reverse is much harder.)

That's pretty much the first half of the book, told as a recounting -- a biography of sorts. It's a great story -- nicely told full of fine drama, but not an unheard of story. Nothing about it would jump out at you as out of the ordinary. Then comes part 2.

Here I have to censor myself because part 2 is effectively the same story but withholding no secrets. Here is where things get interesting and quite deep from a character perspective. I cannot divulge, but the a sharp reader will discern the truth ahead of time, although perhaps not in the fullest of detail. Part 2 is also where emotional reactions shift from strong curiosity to gut twisting and where to book steps up from quality fiction to something truly special.

Nabokovian would be a good word for it. A riveting yet tantalizingly slowly developing life tale, filled with damaged people who both harm and love each other, struggling with loneliness and weakness and dallying at the edge of morality.

It is also a paradigm of clear writing. Flawless sentence construction and passage structure. It hits that enviable sweet spot of simplicity and engagement. There is no special effort required to read it, yet there is no doubt you are reading something of the highest quality. The right touches of humor, and a clever mixing of the hidden and exposed. The structure and interplay of the two parts with a universal theme is quite remarkable. Honestly, it's worth a longer essay if I had the time.

Should you read Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer? Yes. It is one of the very best novels I have ever read.