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Katharine Weber
Katharine Weber

The Music Lesson

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First American edition published by Crown in 1999; paperback published in 2000 by Picador; reissued by Three Rivers Press in 2011

Also published in: England, Italy, Greece, China, Portugal, The Netherlands, Germany, Israel

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Book cover

R E A D E R ' S--G U I D E

About this Guide

The following author biography, reviews, recommended further reading and list of questions about The Music Lesson, are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this novel. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach The Music Lesson.

About this Book

Patricia Dolan is alone with a stolen Vermeer painting in an Irish cottage by the sea. How she got here is part of the story she tells; about her father, a Boston cop; the numbing loss of her daughter; and her charming Irish cousin, who has led her to this high-stakes crime.

About the Author

The author lives in Connecticut and spends part of the year in West Cork, Ireland. She teaches writing at Yale University.

Other Works by Katharine Weber

Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear: A Novel
The Little Women

Katharine Weber, in her Own Words:

I've had in mind a story about a woman alone in a remote Irish cottage with a stolen painting since I first traveled to Ireland in 1976, on my honeymoon. In the tiny fishing village where we spent two rainy weeks, there was still much talk about the discovery and arrest, two years before, of the Anglo-Irish woman who had rented a local cottage in order to hide a cache of paintings stolen for ransom by the IRA from the Beit Collection in County Wicklow (a theft that made the Guinness Book of World Records for record value of stolen artworks at that time).

Among those paintings was a Vermeer. I remember tramping down a muddy lane in order to peer into the windows of what locals still called "the picture cottage." At the time, I was intrigued by the notion of this woman in solitude at the edge of the sea with some of the great paintings of the world. Did she ever look at them, I wondered. What did they mean to her? The facts of the actual case have never been of enormous significance to me. Over the next twenty years, what stayed with me were those questions.

In 1986, my husband and I bought a little house in the same village -- and I can see "the picture cottage" from my window. We spend time there with our two children in the summer, but I also spend several weeks alone in Ireland each year, and it is there that I have done some of my most concentrated writing, and it is there that I began to write The Music Lesson.

Discussion Questions:

1. Katharine Weber's first novel, Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, considered appearance and reality, perception and perceptivity. How are those issues manifest in The Music Lesson?

2. There are many small and hidden spaces in this novel -- fake compartments, hidden cupboards. How do they signify? There are also many characters who aren't what they seem. Can you identify all the characters whose identities shift in the course of the story?

3. This novel deals with the ideas of accomplices and couriers. In which way are we all accomplices and why do we become accomplices? In which way are we all couriers?

4. Discuss the idea that a representation can seem more beautiful than the real object.

5. What is the impact of the journal entries on the pace of the novel? What is the effect of the brevity of the novel, at only 192 pages? How does the spareness of the language control the flow and the tension of the novel?

6. Is Patricia's life better before the story begins or after the story ends?

7. Do you believe, by the book's end that Mickey is really Patricia's cousin? Do you believe that he had genuine feelings for her?

8. The age-old question applies here -- do the ends justify the means in The Music Lesson?

9. The Music Lesson is a visual, tactile, sensory book. Music, color, texture, the natural world, the world of Dutch 17thcentury painting . . . these are all addressed in the book, though not always overtly. Is the author "painting" the world from which Patricia has withdrawn? Does Patricia regain this world by novel's end?

Praise for The Music Lesson:

"Affecting and elegant . . . Weber astutely explores the gap between perception and reality." --The New York Times

"As intricate as an acrostic . . . Weber's skill is such that her puzzle engages the reader throughout." --The New Yorker

"Throughout Weber's trickly, tension-filled plot, double-crosses, murder, and art forgeries dramatize the deeper themes of love, refuge and loss." --Entertainment Weekly

Recommended Further Reading:

Johannes Vermeer
edited by Arthur K. Wheelock jr.
Yale University Press 1995

The Art of Describing: Dutch Art of the Seventeenth Century
by Svetlana Alpers
University of Chicago Press, 1984

Art in the Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts
by Edgar Munhall, Charles Ryskamp, et al.
Harry N. Abrams, 1996

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: A Companion Guide and History
by Hillard T. Goldfarb
Yale University Press, 1995

The IRA: A History
by Tim Pat Coogan
Robers Rinehart, 1994

The Great Hunger: Ireland, 1845-1849
By Cecil Woodham-Smith
Penguin USA, reissue 1995

Books to which Patricia Dolan refers in the pages of The Music Lesson:

Cakes and Ale
by W. Somerset Maugham
Viking Penguin, reissue 1993

The Sea, The Sea
by Iris Murdoch
Viking Penguin, reissue 1980

The Book of Evidence
by John Banville
Warner Books, reissue 1991

 
 



 

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