THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA by Adrienne McDonnell

Book Quote:

“The fact that she was often alone meant that she had to fill the hours and her heart with something apart from him. Especially during his absences, her voice had bloomed. Music invaded her with wildness, overtaking everything. It consumed more hours of her life than a husband or a child could ever have done.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (AUG 5, 2010)

The Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell is an interesting novel that takes place in Boston, Trinidad, Florence, Venezuela, Milan, and other exotic places during the very early 20th century. It opens in 1903 and ends in 1914. The novel is loosely based on the life of the author’s husband’s great-grandmother, a diva who lived a very unconventional life for her time.

The novel is primarily about the life of Erika Von Kessler, a woman gifted with a beautiful operatic voice. She is torn between wanting to be a full-time opera singer and wanting to be a wife and mother. She and Peter are also struggling with infertility. After six years of trying to conceive and after seeing many specialists, they turn to Dr. Ravell seeking help with their problem. It is difficult for readers today to imagine the dearth of knowledge about infertility that existed in those days, along with the embarrassment and shame that accompanied seeking help. Even though medical science had revealed that men could be the reason for infertility, the blame still resided with women. Dr. Ravell offers the couple hope with conception at the same time that he is falling in love with Erika. It appears that his love for her might be reciprocal.

Erika gets pregnant via artificial insemination and gives birth to a stillbirth girl. She still holds hope of getting pregnant again. Gradually, Erika and Peter become close friends with Dr. Ravell. (Dr. Ravell’s first name is never disclosed in the novel.) Because of unfounded allegations, he has had to leave his practice in Boston and he has started a coconut plantation in Trinidad. Erika and Peter follow him there because they believe he holds the key to their being able to conceive a child. After spending many months with the Doctor on his plantation, they return to Boston and Erika is indeed pregnant. She gives birth to Quentin, a healthy boy.

During all this time, Erika has been taking singing lessons and wants very much to have a career in the opera. Peter travels a lot with his job and she does not take to mothering as she had hoped she would. She does have a nanny but she wants to devote most of her days to singing lessons and giving concerts. Her dream is to go to Italy and become a renowned diva. By the time Quentin is five years old, Erika decides that she must go for her dream now or she never will. She is already in her early thirties. She leaves both Peter and Quentin and heads for Italy alone to try and make it in opera.

This book is about a time long gone and not oft-remembered. There was no commercial air travel and the only way to get to Europe was by boat. Letters took weeks to arrive, if they arrived at all. Divorce was hard to attain. Peter decides to divorce Erika once she leaves for Italy and it takes three years for the divorce to go through. Once the divorce is final, Peter gets full custody of Quentin.

Erika leaves for Florence when Quentin is about five years old and doesn’t see him again until he is about nine. The emotional implications of this separation are not discussed sufficiently for me to understand how Erika was able to make this move. I was able to understand her passion to become a diva but unable to understand her ability to leave her whole life behind her. The book does discuss some of her regrets but they seem so minor in light of her wanting a new life. Perhaps a book group would want to pick apart this a bit.

The book has a very sensual undercurrent, and is very descriptive of Europe and some of the exotic places at that time. It has a clear message. Here is a woman who wants to have a career in the opera and will do anything to attain it. If you like romance, sensuality, history and music, this might be a book to enjoy.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 19 readers
PUBLISHER: Pamela Dorman Books (July 22, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Adrienne McDonnell
EXTRAS: Reading Guide
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another woman with a career:

My Wife’s Affair by Nancy Woodruff

And another Diva:

In America by Susan Sontag


August 5, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Facing History, Reading Guide

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