Book Review: The Music Teacher – Renata Šerelytė

Warning: DNF straight ahead

“Atali, the Chief’s secretary, with a long plait of tow coloured hair and the red eyes of an albino, popped her head through the door and froze, mouth open, attempting to work out what she needed in my office.”

– Opening line, The Music Teacher, Renata Šerelytė
  • Published February 16th 2018 by Noir Press (first published January 1st 2004)
  • Author: Renata Šerelytė
  • Translated from Lithuanian by Marija Marcinkute
  • Genre: Crime/Mystery
  • Pages: 200
  • Star rating: ⭐️⭐️

Goodreads synopsis:

A small town police investigator broods obsessively on her tragic love affair with her school music teacher in Soviet Lithuania. After the town is shaken by the murder of a teenage girl, the investigation seems to dry up. When her ex-lover, now a local politician, tries to close down the case, she begins to suspect that he may have been involved.

Renata Serelyte is a novelist, poet, essayist and literary critic. She was born in 1970 in a small town in the north of Lithuania. As a child she lived in various places in Lithuania and Belorussia. She is the author of a number of novels and has won a large number of awards in Lithuania for her writing, including the prestigious Jurga Ivanauskaite Award. Her novel `The Music Teacher’ has been turned into a film in Lithuania.

My  pre-review

I’m starting this review while I am still part way through reading the book. I’ve struggled with this one, compared to the other Lithuanian titles I’ve read, and it’s meant that it’s taken me much longer to get through it. I picked it back up today after a break from it, one of several so far.

My problem is that I dip in and out of it, and that’s because the plot isn’t holding me. I’m just over half-way through it at this point, and I’m still not sure I know what’s going on. I know character names and their roles, but I can’t place them in relation to the synopsis. There are shifts in time, but these just happen with no warning, and I often don’t know where I am in the book’s time frame.

It’s narrated in the first person, but I don’t feel connected to the narrator at all. If it wasn’t for the synopsis on the back of the book telling me what it’s supposed to be about, I wouldn’t have a clue. This might be down to the genre, or the style it’s written in, but whatever the reason, it’s not a style I’m getting into the way I do with other books. This confusion might be intentional for all I know, and I might understand it better if I spent a few solid hours reading it, but I’m just finding the style difficult.

The narrator seems to go from one place to the next in her head really fast, and I can’t keep up with her thoughts or where they are heading. There’s hints at what I know from the plot, but it’s not written in a way that is easily followed. I’m holding out hope that suddenly the style will shift, and the plot will start to race along or there will be some clear explanation, or anything at all different to what it’s been so far! I can grasp a few things, but that’s exactly what it is: grasping. I can’t hold onto them.

I will end this portion of the review (or pre-review) here, and see where the book goes…

My actual review

I have tried. Then I have abandoned. Then I have tried again. I got close to the end, and still I abandoned. This review has been very patient with me, but as is stands, this book is going to become a rare DNF (Did Not Finish).

This is as far as I got

I wrote the pre-review over a year ago, and the book is still sat on my shelf now, and I’ve been too engrossed in other things and discovering new authors and exploring different kinds of books to return to it. I could pick it up tomorrow and take it on the tram with me, I could get through it, but I still don’t think I’d understand it.

And that’s the thing with this book. It isn’t a bad book. It’s just one I don’t understand. If it was badly written I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did. If it didn’t intrigue me, we wouldn’t have a pre-review. If it didn’t have good quotes, then I wouldn’t have underlined any for future reference, but I did underline good quotes. There are moments in this book that make me forget I don’t quite get what’s going on. I took this book a page at a time, and by that I mean I could be enjoying one page, but then be lost on the next one.

I still feel the essence of the characters and their lives, but how it plays out on the page isn’t as clear cut as I’d like it to be. It’s mysterious, but in a way that would require me to need further explanation. You know that edition of Beowulf by Seamus Heaney? There are notes in the margins that explain to the reader in plan English what is happening at any given time. I know that those notes are completely appropriate for the text they are giving clarity to, but it was a level of clarity I needed with this book. The nearest thing to that is the synopsis (see paragraph 3 of my pre-review for my thoughts on that, or, you know, the actual synopsis).

There’s not much more I can say, unless the pages I have left to read somehow explain the entire thing. A review from someone with a better mind than mine for understanding this strange, mysterious, dream-like plot style would be a lot more useful to someone thinking of reading it. And indeed, if there are readers out there who would like to offer me some explanatory notes in the comments, please feel free.

Thank you to Noir Press for giving me a copy of this book for review, apologies it took me so long to get my thoughts out on it!

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