10 thoughts on “The Stones Are Singing – R.B. Russell


    Chapters 1 & 2

    “Being empty it felt like any other old set of draughty, cold rooms with high ceilings and a tendency to damp.”

    An involving start, as the narrator (film music composer) gives us his backstory on how he lives in this inherited apartment in Venice, with a subtly infused ambiance of that city, and his wife in New York as actress. And it takes an accidental fall, and a visit from an old friend from college days not seen for two decades who is clever but on the autistic spectrum, to find out that the narrator is estranged from his wife rather than temporarily apart for professional reasons. And what is it that has fallen or been left so mysteriously on his balcony?
    I am trapped. I shall eke this book out slowly.

  2. Chapter 3

    “It showed a man walking into a café, taking off his coat and sitting at a table.”

    Trapped and grabbed, but resisting reading this book too quickly; I am not a cinema buff but my favourite film EVER has long publicly been ‘Death in Venice’ with Dirk Bogarde, where the film music is Mahler’s, not Part’s nor this narrator’s, but I am intrigued by the music he is composing for a commission described to us in this chapter, by his view of a canal bridge from his apartment, the nature of the apartment above his and below, the rain above and the waters below, the email exchange with his estranged wife, and his rediscovered strangely behaved friend from college, Rolfe, Byron, Pound, Stravinsky, Diaghilev …
    The book’s actual mechanics of the plot itself, though, I will not re-rehearse in this review.

  3. Chapter 4

    “‘I’m waiting to see what patterns emerge.’
    ‘And if there are no patterns?’
    ‘I hope to find them. My previous, personal work was all about making sense of things that might have otherwise appeared to be unrelated.'”

    …as I say to myself, as I work with this ever increasingly promising book.
    Amid being harassed by his new old friend from college and being asked in emails by his wife for money and an interview by someone writing about a previous film of his – our narrator meets the current film director for whom he is composing music, a man who can only name Nyman as his favourite composer and whose only previous film is one anonymously shown as a collage of stolen excerpts from other films into a gestalt work of ‘found art’…
    Not only trapped by the captivation of this book, but diced apart into the separates of the gestalt reviewer I used to be – for the narrator’s lamb stew? I don’t know why I thought that or even why when I first saw the title of this book, I thought of the song 19th Nervous Breakdown.

  4. Chapter 5

    “It was too much of a coincidence.”

    But by saying that, I somehow know it isn’t a coincidence at all. The narrator’s rediscovered friend from college who shouts an impoliteness in public and then regrets it when told about it and then goes over the top in rectifying the faux-pas seems now somehow to fit in with the so-called coincidence of what was earlier found on the narrator’s balcony. Coincidences here seem claustrophobically amassing as well as somehow cancelling each other out! No mean literary feat.
    Like a number like 19 nervous breakdowns having a spurious accuracy?
    Like having too many ‘ups’ in a clause on page 56?

  5. Chapter 6

    “Sitting in front of the computer working ’til six, eating a defrosted dinner, watching a film online, going to bed, day in, day out, seemed suddenly pointless.”

    Read this book, instead, I suggest as it really is something special (about halfway at the moment) and I can easily imagine it may one day be successfully adapted as one of those films you watch as part of your routine. With fine film music to complement its action.
    The coincidences start to seem like a chilling ghost story, and it is a wonderful evocation of different parts of Venice.

  6. Chapter 7

    “Suddenly there was no such number . . .”

    But there are other spurious numbers here, detailing the stressful lengths needed to be gone to in Venice to find one of its buildings that is recognisable from someone’s Facebook page…

    “Are you sure you shouldn’t see a doctor?”

    I think the narrator should see a doctor, however, about the tinnitus he’s suffered since his fall. Especially a music composer.
    We now reach a second moment in this book where there is the implied feeling that music can lead rather than follow a film?
    The woman due to interview our narrator is brilliantly described on page 85. I think this book is the first i.e. where the sense of coincidence is not quite how it is expected to be in normal life. Meetings between people and arranged engagements and other uncanny implications that can’t quite be pinned down in the way numbers can be pinned down, if spuriously. Or the spaces between music notes. Or the gaps between the cells of a graphic novel?

  7. Chapters 8 & 9

    “‘Right wing politics and the occult are natural bedfellows,’ she observed. ‘Both offer the elitist idea that a chosen few deserve dominion over others.’
    ‘Rubbish!’ spluttered Stephen.”

    As much as the narrator now has a shocking change of perspective out of the blue (shocking to him and also to the reader, let me say, a literary moment to cherish), the people he had met separately now meet in his company, as if this is a new perspective, too, if far less shocking. But now I have been shocked again.

    POSSIBLE ACCIDENTAL SPOILER FOLLOWS (please omit the passage below if you have not yet read the book.)

    Looking ahead cursorily in the book to see how many chapters remain to be read, I have just noted there seems to be no Chapter 11 before Chapter 12, unless I am mistaken! Perhaps that will change when I pick up the book again? I now somehow know how the narrator feels in his own change of perspective! Either a very clever ruse or something VERY strange is going on comparable to what has just happened in the plot.

  8. Chapter 10 till end…

    “…momentary, attenuated silhouette, and then the door was closed.”

    The world seems to have changed these days, and not only with recent earth tremors in Italy. This ending, at first, I thought was a sell-out, but then I knew it was the perfect ending, an ineluctable resolution, a wonderful sense of the backing music of my life, but what were the stones singing? A far superior resolution to its being a nervous breakdown, whatever its spurious number. (Only one minor typo, in the middle of page 136).
    A splendid book that has aleatorically affected me in more ways than one.
    It also seemed appropriate that the random choice of the resolution’s venue was a Roman Catholic Church, as coincidentally, yes, that word again, I have been real-time reviewing another book here alongside this one, and this morning I also finished it by reading its chapters 10, 11 and 12 in one fell sitting.

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