It may not be one of the greatest books, maybe out of print and may not even be about the best musician on the planet (though for some he definitely is!), but nonetheless, it is one marvellous novel that must be read.
Clair De Lune written by Pierre La Mure is a biography of France’s best musician and composer, Claude Debussy.
Before you stop reading the review further because the word ‘biography’ has put you off, I must tell you that the biography is very much a novel, a story of his life rather than a collection of boring essays of Debussy’s life by other people.It is written beautifully tracing Debussy’s life from his birth to his eventual/sad death. La Mure wrote about Debussy’s life like a intricate story so much so that the reader is one with Debussy in his travails and success.
There is not much in the sense of a plot in the novel which is quite obvious as Pierre is writing about a true, famous French musician and not a fictional character. Yet I will give you a short summary. The book starts with his aunt and her reflection of her motherly love for Debussy. She recalls his birth and how she convinced his parents to let him stay with him in Paris. His aunt recognized his talent and arranged piano lessons for him. His musical talent got him admission in the Paris Conservatoire. He even won the Prix De Rome. However, because of the difficult and experimental nature of his music, Debussy wasn’t able to impress many composers who dismissed his work as difficult to play. Debussy therefore continued to struggle and remain in poverty partly because of this and partly because he did not grab opportunities when he saw them and was not business minded. It was only after his opera’s performance,’Pelleas et Mesilande’, that Debussy tasted success and his music was appreciated. He was finally able to uplift himself from his crushing poverty. He died in 1918 in the middle of World War I due to cancer. Mixed with his musical life is his very colourful love life. He had affairs with several women which is greatly described in the book.
How much is truth and how much is dramatization in this biography I cannot judge. However, I am guessing that the love affairs that have been focused and etched out so vividly have definite touches of fiction, probably given to increase the reader’s curiosity and make them want to buy his novel. And that is one of the negative points in the book. It tends to focus more on his turbulent affairs than his music. He comes across as a womanizer than as a composer because of this. The book does mention that music was his first love but this love is never demonstrated elaborately. His music is relegated to the margins quite often which is quite disappointing. (Though it is quite fun reading pages and pages of love making he had with his love interests!) Another very disappointing aspect is that the novel exalts Debussy, creates a perfectness in him that is impossible in any individual, justifies all his actions and portrays him as a victim (particularly when it comes to his mean actions with his love interests).
Besides all these drawbacks, ‘Clair De Lune‘ is a breathtaking work, a beautifully crafted biography that ignites the life and times of the great misfit musician. It pulls the reader into the bygone latter years of the 19th century, paints a stunning, opulent, luxurious,enchanting picture of France and Paris and other European places that Debussy visits. The emotional ups and downs, the tempestuous love affairs, the harrowing poverty, the fantastical music moments and the astonishing success seep into the reader making it difficult to tear oneself away from the book’s magic and come back to the dreary,music-less 21st century world!
Clair De Lune is a novel that is not to be missed. One does not need to be a music expert to read Claude Debussy’s life story. The book never throws a lot of confusing music jargons that laypeople won’t understand. One can however, fall in love with his music because of this novel and that won’t be futile as his music is pretty darn good with its melting, lilting, dreamy qualities. It is sure to be a heart stirring experience!
Do check out this book and his wonderful music. They are both worth the time and money!