David Hajdu – Adrianne Geffel
(W.W. Norton, 207pp., £19.95. Book Review by Chris Parker)
The truly witty satirical novel is a rara avis, possibly because satire is most effective when carried out by stiletto thrusts, delivering fatal wounds that are initially hardly felt, rather than by repeated clubbing. Maintaining a consistent lightly satirical tone (as in, say, The Diary of a Nobody) over novel length is a considerable achievement, but David Hajdu has succeeded in doing just this with Adrianne Geffel.
The eponymous heroine of his work is a musical genius, a pianist with a rare neurological condition that results in her hearing music constantly in her head that she is able to channel, unmediated, into freeform pieces that have a visceral effect on her listeners. Known to the music press as the ‘Queen of Bleak Chic’ or the ‘Geyser of Grand Street’, she is (briefly) celebrated by the cognoscenti of New York, streaking across the city’s artistic firmament like a comet, before disappearing in mysterious circumstances.
Purporting to be an investigation by a writer who never met her or heard her perform, the novel consists of a series of interviews with Geffel’s parents, music teachers, record-company employees and music journalists, all of whom unwittingly parade their various vanities, misunderstandings and tawdry self-interest in their answers to the questions put to them. Alongside these interviewees, however, there are a few ‘genuine’ heartfelt contributions from true, disinterested friends, chief among them Geffel’s lover, Barb Lucher, whose every statement skewers the exploitation and greed surrounding the pianist.
At once delightfully mischievous (Geffel’s parents’ obsession with liquid propane and her brother’s narcissism are a constant joy) and fundamentally serious (she falls victim to a talentless self-appointed agent and an unscrupulous record-company boss), Adrianne Geffel will be enjoyed by anyone (with a sense of humour) interested in the interface between artistic genius and the commercial world. Or just anyone with a sense of humour.
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