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The Travelling Hornplayer

The Travelling Hornplayer by Barbara Trapido
17 reviews (1999) (8p) Best Books

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Book Description
Barbara Trapido is a brilliant novelist who has been delighting British readers for more than a decade. Here, the Whitbread Award--winning author of Brother of the More Famous Jack weaves a funny, sexy, and poignant story that begins with the death of a young woman and blossoms into an Austen-esque comedy of manners that explores the connections between friends, lovers, and families. With a switchback plot that shifts from Scotland to Rome, from London to the Cotswolds, Barbara Trapido's fifth novel is elegant, surprising, and peopled with wholly original characters whose extraordinary fates are at once uniquely hilarious and immensely touching.

"A wrenching ride . . . there are points in the book when you don't know whether to laugh or cry."-- USA Today

"Wondrously amusing, in a way that too few books are anymore."-- Chicago Tribune

"A great novelist; sooner or later the whole reading world will know it."-- (The San Francisco Chronicle)

"Deliciously subversive. . . . As Trapido's characters experience love, loss, grief and plucky survival, the narrative twists are accomplished with a sleight of hand so subtle that the reader is often stunned."-- Publishers Weekly (starred review) Review
Barbara Trapido's golden novel about loss is an Alice in Wonderland for grownups. From its haunting start--"Early on in the morning of my interview, I woke up and saw my dead sister"--to its final, endless irony, The Travelling Hornplayer zips with plot twists and character turns, shocking revelations and desperate reactions. Any attempt at summary is dizzying, but here are a few hints: for three years, Ellen Dent has been devastated by the loss of her younger sister, who had struck famous novelist Jonathan Goldman as having "the pleasing air of one who plans to easily pass through this life, collecting admirers at tennis parties." Nonetheless, Lydia's charmed teenage existence had come to a quick end, courtesy of a car, outside Jonathan's North London flat after his daughter, Stella, turned her away, mistaking her for his mistress, Sonia. Sonia herself will later crop up in the Cotswolds as the temporary lodger of Jonathan's beloved wife--and I won't even begin to unravel Stella's super-disconcerting tale. I will, however, say that the book contains several other matchless, larger-than-life characters and strands, which mesh together into a sparky, tragicomic puzzle.

In Trapido's world all is not what it seems, to put it mildly. She is a gifted comic writer because she knows tragedy is just around every corner. Since 1982 and the publication of her Whitbread-winning novel, Brother of the More Famous Jack, her buoyant, allusive roundelays have proved that she has a knack for the ways gifted families work--and the ways they most definitely do not. She is also a brilliant commingler of life and art. Her third novel, Temples of Delight, is an inventive riff on The Magic Flute, while her fourth, Juggling (inexplicably, never published in the U.S.), sets forth a key Trapidian tenet, the superiority of Shakespearean comedy over tragedy: "Survival is admirable. It is more difficult than death, since it takes more energy and guile." The Travelling Hornplayer seems to have been inspired by both Conrad's Heart of Darkness and William Müller's lyrics, "which Schubert, under the cloud of his own recently diagnosed syphilis, managed so brilliantly to layer and elevate into a profound, bombarding symbiosis of love and death." This tantalizing novel is no less layered--though, given her comic genius, elevation isn't exactly Barbara Trapido's style. --Kerry Fried

Barbara Trapido Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 0  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 0  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award


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