Orfeo is a musical composition transformed into a novel. It is at times lyrical, at times dissonant. It is full of joy and pain, love and frustration. At times I feel I’m taking a course in music appreciation as I read it. I find myself searching for and listening to classical music works mentioned in the story as I go along. One reviewer (Ron Charles, Washington Post) suggests the book could be expensive, even if you check it out of the library, due to the desire to purchase music mentioned in the book. It may not be possible to enjoy this novel if you have no connection with music, either as a performer, writer, or at least an involved listener. Yet Powers is a master with words.
It is the story of Peter Els, a retired musician, composer, professor, who is mistaken for a terrorist and pursued by Homeland Security because of his hobby in bioengineering. In his amateur lab he is trying to design music into DNA. It is also the story of Els life interwoven with his current dilemma. It also has social, political, and cultural underlying themes.
About the writing…
I realize that in my last post I was complaining about literary novels and the lack of quotation marks in some. This is definitely a literary novel with not one quotation mark to be found (though he did use italics for dialog). Yet it held my attention and kept me reading. Granted, it was difficult reading at times (not because of the lack of quotes) and it wasn’t a book I finished in one night…or two or three. In my opinion, this man can write way beyond the capabilities of most of us.
Richard Powers is new to me even though he is a highly acclaimed author winning numerous awards for his novels, including the National Book Award for Fiction. [Wikipedia] I looked up Powers, his work, and reviews of Orfeo because I was curious and intend to read more of his books. Below are some links to reviewers who cover the book in more depth if you’re interested. There are many more if you search.
Jim Holt, New York Times
Steven Poole, The Guardian
Heller McAlpin, NPR
Goodreads.com(reviews from the crowd)