Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees

Title: Mozart's Last Aria: A Novel
Author: Matt Rees

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Murder Mystery / 18th Century / Vienna / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Conspiracy)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (11/1/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: Mozart's sister travels to Vienna after her brother's unexpected death to discover his final work might have stirred up danger and caused his demise.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's super pretty but is completely not relevant to the book!

I'm reminded of...: Kate Mosse, Sena Jeter Naslund, M.J. Rose

First line: When she sang, it was hard to imagine death was so near.

Did... I immediately zip to YouTube to find all the music referenced in this novel?: YES. Especially since Rees makes it clear the story arc was influenced by a specific piano sonata, I had to listen to see if it echoed the novel's feel.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you like Dan Brown-ish thrillers.

Why did I get this book?: Historical novels always intrigue me but I was especially taken with the setting and premise of this one.

Review: Even though this book has elements that I just eat up -- a take-charge heroine, unique foreign setting, weird conspiracy involving a secret society, dramatic artists, and lots of intrigue -- I actually found this to be an unremarkable novel. The book isn't bad -- it's just rather pedestrian. At 295 pages, it ought to be a fast read but weirdly, the story drags despite the non-stop action.

The novel is written in the first person which is normally a voice I rather like -- I enjoy 'being' the heroine -- but in this case, I felt as if it were the 'easy' choice. Lots of telling the reader how the heroine felt rather than demonstrating, and that always bores me. (For example, there are two pages of the heroine looking at herself in the mirror near the start of the novel so we would learn of her appearance -- which is a tried and true trick of first person narrators in YA novels. I don't care how my heroine looks; I care about how she acts.)

It's obvious when reading the Author's Note and the mini-essay about the novel that Rees admires Mozart immensely and was greatly inspired by Vienna. That comes across in this novel but not much else. For a heroine who should be so interesting -- a child prodigy with great musical talents herself, married to a provincial widower and estranged from her brother in his last years -- Nannerl was remarkably flat.

The setting of the novel is a conspiracy around Mozart's sudden death, which is a historical event I've been fascinated with since I was a kid. As such, Mozart's music is a huge part of the novel, and in particular his opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute).

It's tricky when a novel features an artistic medium that readers might not be familiar with -- ballet or modern art or classical music -- and it takes real skill to make the experience of that medium, however foreign, something that readers can relate with and appreciate (Evan Fallenberg's When We Danced on Water made the passion of ballet very real for me, for example). Unfortunately, I don't think Rees quite conveyed why Mozart was such a genius or why his music was so moving (other than extolling us to find his music and listen along). I've had the good fortune of seeing Die Zauberflöte twice in the last handful of years with opera nuts who pointed out much of the Masonic influence that Rees mentions in this novel, and as a result, I felt comfortable with that aspect of the story: the characters, the visual clues, the possible political references. But I think those who aren't as familiar with the opera might be lost, especially since Rees continually tells us how greatly Mozart's music impacts everyone but doesn't translate that into an experience the reader can enjoy, too.

The book is loaded with extras: a map of Vienna, cast of characters, a list of music referenced in each chapter, an essay from the author on the inspiration for the story (and the hint that he wrote the novel emulating the form and feel of one of Mozart's darker piano sonatas), and suggested additional reading. Certainly, this novel inspired in me an interest to learn more about Mozart's sister but I can't say I understand more about Mozart or even 18th century Vienna. I think if you go into this with YouTube queued up and the expectation that you're getting a fast historical thriller, the experience will be diverting, a splashy read for the holidays.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Mozart's Last Aria to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out the brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 12/2.


  1. This one is confusing for me. I just can't decide whether or not to pick it up! On the one hand, it sounds like it should be fantastic, but then I am afraid maybe it won't live up to its potential. Thanks for the giveaway!

  2. @Lola: Yeah, I especially think the cover paints it as a straight up historical, perhaps a romance, when this is far more a Dan Brown-esque conspiracy thriller. Not bad, but not great (for me, at least).

  3. I think you expressed very eloquently why this book didn't work for me, or for you, by the looks of it! I just didn't expect this whole masonic twist, and felt that it downgraded the historical significance of the story. I can't say that I really enjoyed this one, and I didn't do the additional research because I felt that I was done with these characters once the final page was turned. It was a very lackluster read for me. Your review was very potent and wonderful, and I enjoyed exploring it!

  4. I'm still baffled by the cover after reading your review. It just doesn't seem to fit. I'm intrigued by this novel, but the reviews have left me thinking it's not worth the time. I am excited to see the new movie Mozart's Sister though, and perhaps it will give me my dose of Mozart and historical fiction!

  5. @Heather: You always say the nicest things to me -- thank you!! I definitely think this novel was marketed badly -- the cover is meant to evoke traditional historical (perhaps even a historical romance) and that's what I expected. The Dan Brown-ish conspiracy thing felt totally out of left field and like you said in your review, the non-stop swooning, wailing, sobbing, and gnashing was exhausting.

    @Carrie: Yes, the cover is really all wrong -- as I said to Heather, I think it's being marketed toward the historical (or historical romance) crowd, rather erroneously, since it has a far more thriller-ish feel. I find it so odd when books/films echo random themes -- after hearing nothing abt Mozart's sister my whole life, we now get a historical novel and a film! (I'm excited for the film, though, because she seems quite interesting, and not quite done with justice in this book).

  6. I debated on picking this up for quite some time. The fact that it was about Mozart was enough to pique my interest, but I haven't read too many encouraging reviews, unfortunately. Your review certainly gives me much more insight into this, so I thank you kindly, ma'am! :)

  7. But the cover is so pretty it can't be bad right? I had such hope for this one - I'm still torn about reading it. Thanks for the review.

  8. I'm quite a Mozart fan so I'm still really intrigued to read it! I'll keep my fingers crossed!

  9. Thanks for your review. I'm interested in reading this book and I so glad I know what to expect now. I'll make sure I'm in the right mood to read this one.

  10. This one has been on the wish list, but you've made me more cautious. I liked the one Dan Brown book I read, but I'm not sure that this is a book I should be salivating for. I am intrigued by the Mozart angle here, however. Thanks for the giveaway.

  11. @All: I was thinking about this book more last night, and I realized I'm so grumpy about the book because the use of Mozart's sister is sort of inconsequential to the story. In fact, despite being such an exceptionally talented person, she doesn't do anything beyond what another woman would do. The heroine could have been a maid, a woman off the street, etc. So I was especially disappointed to have such a strong woman watered down.

    @Natalie: Glad I could shed more light on it -- I think for the right mood, it could be good.

    @Heather: I know, the cover is sumptuous!

    @Margaret: It def will tickle some.

    @Mamabunny: Exactly -- managing expectations will help with this one.

    @Serena: You have to be in a mood for this book, and aware it's less historical and more a thriller -- and then it's enjoyable! :)

  12. I only skimmed your review because I'm reading this book for review now. Your line about Dan Brown-ish thrillers made me laugh and cringe!

    I haven't read much of the book yet and already I'm having some issues. I love Mozart's music and your You-tube idea is great. I'll be there listening to the pieces I don't have!

  13. Sorry this one wasn't for you. Thanks for being on the tour!

  14. I'm not a Dan Brown fan, so that comparison is a bit of a turn off. I agree that Evan Fallenberg really made ballet come to life in his novel, and I'm not much of a ballet fan. I'd really need that kind of thing for this book to work for me.