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Katharine Weber's The Music Lesson

Katharine Weber's The Music Lesson is an agreeable read, short enough for an evening's pleasure. The narrator, at least for the first two-thirds, is very engaging, an intelligent American of Irish extraction who finds herself actually in Ireland for the first time at the age of forty-three. We know that she is involved in some sort of excitement - some plot, perhaps a heist - and the details are intriguingly slow to emerge. But once we know everything (and we know it somewhat sooner than the narrator has finished telling us), the novel begins to seem both slight and contrived. Our narrator hasn't been so smart, after all. That would be all right if her lack of foresight hadn't seeped into the book itself, as if drawn, in the manner of opposites attracting, by the presence of an ineffable masterpiece of Western Art, the picture by Johannes Vermeer whose title Ms Weber has taken for her book. This presence, we realize, has effectually promised us that nothing incongruously gross or slapdash will occur in the course of the story. When the narrator finally figures out the nature of the man with whom she has been dealing, however, the change in her voice is gross and slapdash. Surely she ought to have foreseen the possibility of this shattering denouement - and taken steps to assure herself that it would not befall her. Excellent as Ms Weber's writing might be, the "Well, duh," with which we cover the final pages represents an inordinate letdown.

I tend to stay away from books about the persistence of Ireland's "Troubles," and The Music Lesson reminds me why. Although raised entirely in Boston, and currently living on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the narrator has absorbed a full measure of the Irish South's rage against the Protestant British. It's impossible for me to be anything but impatient with such obduracy.


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