Book review - Faye L. Booth reviews Tenderwire by Claire Kilroy published in hardback by Faber and Faber, £12.99.
After a performance in New York, expatriate Irish violinist Eva Tyne collapses, bleeding. From this point on, her life is chaotic and strange - she leaves her long term partner, moves out of their shared apartment and meets a mysterious man who offers to sell her a rare, antique violin. Hypnotised by the instrument's age and beauty, Eva finds herself cashing in the money left to her in her missing father's estate, and scrambling to raise the rest of the six hundred thousand dollars required to purchase the violin; the Magdalena.
The grip Eva's new violin has on her is powerful, and she can hardly bear to be parted from it, even for the short time required for repairs. She can no longer trust the people around her, fearing theft of the Magdalena, or cheating from her new partner. Then a claim surfaces that the violin has an untold history...
Kilroy's prose is wonderfully evocative of Eva's world of cities under winter snow, ornate concert halls, grubby bars and cheap fast food restaurants. Delightful, character-capturing sentences are strewn throughout: "My mother was punishing the drawer for not containing a pen." "Daniel never pronounced the h in what. He was too busy." She also defines the strange nature of an artist's - any artist's - life beautifully ("The problem with being a musician is that as soon as you establish a routine, the routine is broken, because no performance can go on for ever..."), and Eva's all-consuming obsession with acquiring the Magdalena and keeping it close will ring true to many who have experienced similar compulsions. Kilroy has clearly done her research, too, and her understanding of such an intricate musical instrument comes through very clearly.
The plot suggests that of a classical opera, with an object - the Magdalena - possessing a character of its own, and a presence that almost seems to influence events. Tenderwire is a carefully-balanced book, constructed with as much skill and precision as the instrument at the centre of it, and as haunting as the strains of its music.