The Virtuoso by Virginia Burges

‘Every player gets nervous before a performance.’

Isabelle Bryant, a professional violinist, is the title character.  Her Nagyvary violin, on loan from Nagyvary, is an extension of her body, another limb.  She’s thirty-two years old when the novel opens, at the height of her career.  Isabelle was the youngest-ever winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, and her first solo performance was at the Royal Albert Hall where she played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.  Beethoven is her passion, and she is known affectionately as ‘Beethoven’s Babe’.

Isabelle is married to Howard Miller, a conductor.   It is not a happy marriage: Howard is argumentative and manipulative.  One night, after Howard abuses her over her appearance on a radio show, Isabelle decides to leave.  Howard follows her to the car, and a violent attack results in Isabelle losing two fingers on her left hand – the hand with which she plays the violin.

Imagine Isabelle’s despair.  Her professional career is over.  Her fingers were not insured.  She must give up the Nagyvary violin.   She is deeply depressed. Her friend Hortense, an African-American singer and her husband Ray, take Isabelle on a trip to Madeira to help her recuperate.  A chance meeting with the editor of High Notes magazine results in Isabelle travelling to Vienna to write a feature article about Beethoven.  Isabelle realises that there may be new ways to stay in touch with music.  Isabelle also meets an intriguing man: could they have a future together?

‘Every artist has to vary their repertoire and try new things.’

Isabelle slowly moves towards a new life.  As she does so, she divorces Howard, makes some startling discoveries about the past and reconciles with her estranged sister. There are a few more twists in Isabelle’s life before she finds a more settled happiness.  This is a novel about a life in transition, about adapting to change, about being willing to explore possibilities.

‘Perhaps you don’t need a new identity; you just need to be you.’

I enjoyed this novel, I particularly liked Hortense, and I loved the way Isabelle’s friends and family helped her to see new possibilities.   There were a couple of melodramatic passages that raised my eyebrows, but I finished the novel content with the ending, certain that Isabelle had found a new and satisfying niche.

‘You need to have a dream.’

Note: My thanks to the author for providing me with an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith