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Glaswegian opera star Terri Ivory spends her life travelling the world when she's not at home in her ivory tower in London. Recovering from a potentially life-changing surgery as the book begins, Terri draws on those around her to see her through. Though divorced a long time now, she is surrounded by enough good people that she doesn't feel lonely. There's daughter Julie, about to start at university though she should possibly be choosing a life more choral than Cambridge. There's her intriguing man-friend Teo, wounded by war but perhaps damaged more by an unrequited love. Sue, Julie's boyfriend's mother, comes from a background that could not be more different, but still finds a place in Terri's life and in her heart.
In this busy book we follow a whole cast of characters as they go about their lives from London's council flats to the city's luxurious mansions, from war-torn Bosnia to the streets of Paris and New York and the finest spas of Baden-Baden. As the usually unrelated yet, in this book, entirely connected worlds of opera and the military collide, no one's life will ever be the same again.
There are some books you neither want nor are able to put down, and this is one of them. From the moment I cracked the spine I was drawn in by the lives of the characters, because for all the fascinating locations and situations the story takes us through, essentially at its core it is about nothing more than families and relationships and the secrets that should never be spilled. I can think of no better summary for the book than its own title. It is indeed a Song of Triumphant Love, and when that love triumphs, it is truly a sight to behold. The book borrows some ideas from its namesake, Turgenev's 1881 work 'The Song of Triumphant Love' but it's more a case of using it as a muse than of even a hint of plagiarism. Duchen's book is an entirely new story rather than a rehashing of an original, and is a masterpiece in its own right.
The characters are beautifully described, and flawed in a wonderfully real way. Terri, out of work against her will, turns to food to fill that void and ends up as the proverbial fat lady who sings. Julie, so madly devoted to Alistair, is still a typical teenager who can be wooed by diamonds and first class tickets, despite having grown up with Terri for a mother. Russian princess Irina has everything money can buy, but yearns more than anything for the things it cannot.
The author's clear love for music permeates throughout the story, and whether you're an opera veteran such as Terri, or more of a philistine such as Alistair, you cannot help but feel the joy that singing brings to the characters as they use it for everything from relaxation to a healing therapy. Maybe it is music, not laughter, that is the best medicine.
My only niggle with this book was the one storyline, to do with paternity, that was never resolved. It was picked up and dropped early on, but I expected it to emerge again towards the end. While everything else slotted together to give a complete story, this was the one part frustratingly left hanging.
This aside, I found the book to be an exquisite, tightly woven tale of pleasure and pain, hope and suffering, optimism and defeat. This is not chick-lit, but solid, juicy, sink your teeth into writing. The romance is serious, heart-wrenching stuff, not the flitty love you fall in and then fall out of almost immediately. It's a book that takes you on an adventure you never want to end, makes you friends with characters you never want to leave. It was simply a joy to read.
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk
The book was first published in 2009 and is now readily available in paperback.