I got this book in an attempt to escape horror novels for a while. You can guess that after a bit of Stephen King and a bit of Bentley Little I would need something else to clean my brain with. I got lucky! Eileen Ramsey wrote a book about a lost family secret and it was set in my favourite part of Scotland (in the vales near Glasgow). This was way better than Saskia’s Journey and it definitely made me want to get tickets to the opera (Especially Lohengrin from Richard Wagner).
Holly Noble believes she was the most important person in her Aunt Tony’s life: summers spent as a child with the reclusive painter are some of her most precious memories. When Tony dies, Holly returns to the cottage at Torry Bay in Argyll to claim her inheritance. What she finds in the attic changes her life forever…A series of beautifully painted pictures depicting the world famous opera singer Blaise Fougere hints at a secret love affair that spanned the decades. Determined to show Tony’s lost genius to the world, Holly decides to exhibit the works. Blaise’s arrogant nephew, Taylor Hartman, refuses to believe that his uncle is the subject of the paintings and decides to prevent what he believes to be the deluded dreams of a frustrated artist being shown to the world. But as each canvas is hung, and the story of ‘Toinette’ and the man Holly only knew as ‘Uncle Fire’ is told, the colour, the passion and the beauty of the paintings draw Taylor and Holly ever closer.
There are multiple references to real opera pieces. “Lohengrin” takes place in Antwerp, in the first half of the 10th century. The Duke of Brabant has died, leaving his children Elsa and Gottfried as wards of his kinsman, Friedrich von Telramund, who has also been granted the right to Elsa’s hand in marriage. One day Elsa and Gottfried went to the forest, and Elsa returned alone. Suspecting Elsa of having murdered her brother in collusion with an unknown lover, Telramund has married Ortrud, the last descendant of an ancient noble family. In actual fact, Ortrud has used witchcraft to transform Gottfried into a swan, and it is she who has convinced Telramund of Elsa’s guilt.
“Des Grieux” – the painting that Tony is commisioned to create depcting Blaise in the role of Des Grieux from Puccini’s opera “Manon Lescaut” which was based on a very controversial (and banned at the time of publication) book called “L’Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut”. Set in France and Louisiana in the early 18th century, the story follows the hero, the Chevalier des Grieux, and his lover, Manon Lescaut. Des Grieux comes from a noble and landed family, but forfeits his hereditary wealth and incurs the disappointment of his father by running away with Manon. In Paris, the young lovers enjoy a blissful cohabitation, while Des Grieux struggles to satisfy Manon’s taste for luxury. He scrounges together money by borrowing from his unwaveringly loyal friend Tiberge and by cheating gamblers. On several occasions, Des Grieux’s wealth evaporates (by theft, in a house fire, etc.), prompting Manon to leave him for a richer man because she cannot stand the thought of living in penury.
The two lovers finally end up in New Orleans, to which Manon has been deported as a prostitute, where they pretend to be married and live in idyllic peace for a while. But when Des Grieux reveals their unmarried state to the Governor and asks to be wed with Manon, the Governor’s nephew sets his sights on winning Manon’s hand. In despair, Des Grieux challenges the Governor’s nephew to a duel and knocks him unconscious. Thinking he had killed the man and fearing retribution, the couple flee New Orleans and venture into the wilderness of Louisiana, hoping to reach an English settlement. Manon dies of exposure and exhaustion the following morning and, after burying his beloved, Des Grieux is eventually taken back to France by Tiberge.
The story is well written, split into two time frames, first the story of Holly Noble set in 1999 as she remembers her beloved aunt and the trials and tribulations she has to go through to get her paintings exhibited.
The second part of the story is the romance between two souls that were meant to be together but were split apart by the war and an unfortunate marriage. The dialogue between Tony (Toinette) and Blaise Fougere are some of the best I’ve seen in a romance novel. No cringy, soapy, lemony tear-jerkers here. Just a woman and her man.
Towards the end, the story of Holly falters and trips and fails a bit. It manages to recover on the last few pages but still, it was a bit as the author was trying desperately to replicate the split between her aunt and her love in modern times, just to give them a happy end.
About the author
Born and raised in the South-West of Scotland, Eileen Ramsay used the wonderful Scottish countryside and her love for classical music and painting as a backdrop to the “Someday, Somewhere” book. She moved to the US where she taught for 18 years and spent her free time writing books and poetry. She’s married to Ian and has two boys.
Apart from my family the great love of my life is opera. I remember vividly hearing a snatch of a tenor aria on the radio while I was at college and humming it to every musicologist I met for years before discovering it was from Mozart’s Don Giovanni.