Water Music by Christine Balint

‘I was reared on water and fish like a bird.’

In this work of historical fiction, Ms Balint takes us to eighteenth century Venice. Lucietta is an orphan, being raised by a fisherman’s family. Her adoptive mother, a wet-nurse for the orphanage, asked permission to raise one girl and Lucietta was the one she kept, until she was sixteen. Lucietta is fortunate in that provision has been made for her future:

‘My real father had left instructions and funds to secure my musical education.’

From an early age, Lucietta learns the violin and as the novella opens, she is leaving for the Derelitti Convent, one of the musical orphanages for girls. Here, Lucietta will play the violin in the ensemble and will train some of the younger musicians. She wonders who her father is and whether he would be one of the nobles listed in the Libro d’Oro (the Golden Book).

‘I am Lucietta … the new violinist.’

We learn of Lucietta’s life within the Derelitti Convent, of friends she makes and challenges faced. There are beautiful descriptions of how Lucietta feels when she plays. She knows that music is all she has, all that has stood between her and marriage to a fisherman. And when she plays:

‘Now I am swimming inside the music, hearing every note, seeing the patterns on the page, but blocking out the audience. I cannot bear it’

Will Lucietta become a nun? Will she stay to play music, or will she accept an offer of marriage?

‘I want to talk to someone, but there is only air and moonlight.’

The historical backdrop for this novel is a system of patronage that existed in Venice between 1400 and 1797 which enabled girls from any background to obtain a full-time musical education, leading to a career in music, if they passed an audition.

This glorious novella was the joint winner of the 2021 Viva La Novella prize. I enjoyed Lucietta’s story and the setting and finished the novella wondering (but not needing) what might have happened next.

My thanks to the author for providing me with a copy for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



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