This was my first book by Barbara Trapido but I think it will not be the last. It has flaws but I could generously overlook them as there is so much to enjoy in Sex & Stravinsky.
Sex & Stravinsky is told in alternating points of view something I usually don’t like unless it is done as well as Barbara Trapido does it. What is really impressive is how different those voices sound. The story could be told in a few words as the book is really focussing more on the characters than on the plot.
The Australian Caroline meets Josh, a South African, in London. Josh is fascinated by opera, ballet and pantomime, dedicating his whole live to these topics. They have a daughter Zoe who would love to become a ballet dancer but since money is tight she has to make do with reading ballet books that are written by Hattie whom she doesn’t know.
Hattie is the secret love of Josh’s life. She still lives in South Africa with Hermann, the tall blond of Boer descent. They have a daughter Cat who is highly creative but hates her mother’s guts.
And there is Jack, Jacques or Giacomo, depending on the mood of the day, a young man of modest background who reinvents his own story as he moves from South Africa to Senegal, to Italy and back to South Africa.
There are a lot of coincidences in this book that seem unrealistic and still Barbara Trapido can get away with it as her characters are truly wonderful.
At the beginning of the novel, the couples are in their respective countries, at the end they all meet in South Africa, more or less by chance.
Caroline is by far the most appealing character and I could relate to her story. She was followed to London by her awful mother who exploits and abuses her whenever she can. Although Caroline is strong – she can renovate and redecorate a house like any man could, she is over six feet tall and a stunning blonde beauty, she transforms a bus into a little paradise, she knows how to cook delicious meals out of nothing, sews the most wonderful clothes out of old pieces -she cannot fight her own mother and her horrible sister. Unfortunately the description of her mother, the event of her cerebral hemorrhage including the story of the will and the unhappy discoveries linked to it felt all too familiar…
Each one of them does not live the life they had dreamt of but they will all get their chance in the end.
I really enjoyed this book. It exudes globalization and all the elements of living in a multicultural world. We hear as much about Stravinsky as about the masks of the Dogon. But, and this is my critique, it sort of flies over these cultural elements. It is a bit like standing at an enormous buffet with fingerfood from every corner of the world. A little taste of Moroccan cuisine, morsels of Northern Italian anti-pasti, a sandwich with a Caribbean spread.
Still, I liked it a lot: I loved the descriptions of the characters. Talented Caroline, Hattie the petite dancer, rebellious Cat, adopted Josh, Herman the boorish architect, little Zoe who discovers France on a school trip.
Zoe’s school trip to France is one of the best parts. Poor Zoe lands in a dysfunctional lower class family with unhealthy habits, a lot of shouting, awful driving in a smoke-filled car.
One theme that we find in the whole novel is legitimacy. There are three characters in this book who don’t know who their real parents are.
I believe Barbara Trapido just invented the genre of the 21st century multicultural fairytale.
One thing I would be interested in however, why did she choose this title? Has anyone an idea?