Thursday, April 3, 2008

Liszt's Kiss by Susan Dunlap


In Victorian Paris, a rampant cholera outbreak kills thousands of its citizens. Countess Anne Barbier-Chouant lives a privileged life surrounded by the brimming love of her mother. They spend many hours together indulging in a mutual love for music. But their idyllic life is soon shattered when the plague claims her mother. Her father, grieves so deeply, he locks the music room and places extreme restrictions on his daughter, even denying her solace in music.

Her mother's friend, Marie d'Agoult, enters Anne's life and introduces her to society's elite and musical prodigies. Anne spends many hours playing the pianoforte. Marie introduces Anne to famous composer Franz Liszt and arranges for him to tutor her in music in the hopes that a romance will blossom between the two. Intensely handsome and full of passion, he caused many women to swoon at his performances. But Liszt is not interested in Anne. It is Marie who has captured his heart. With secret notes he sends to Anne but which are meant to incite Marie's interest, Anne grows to love Liszt. She is convinced he sends the romantic notes to her.

Anne's father arranges a marriage for her to a distant cousin by the name of Armand de Barbier. Although a friendship develops with her intended, Anne's heart remains fixed upon Liszt. While Anne is enhancing her musical skills under Liszt's tutelage, Armand de Barbier volunteers his time in a local hospital. He eventually becomes ill and is operated on by a dedicated physician, Pierre Talon. A man of little means, Pierre meets Anne at a concert after she fainted after Liszt's magnificent performance. He runs to her rescue and falls instantly in love with her. But her identity alludes him.

At a later date, when he brings Armand to Anne’s home, he re-encounters Anne, the woman he has dreamed of and searched for. The story becomes complex with side plots of unrequited love, mistaken affection, and misguided expectations.

Meanwhile, Anne learns her father is keeping dark secrets. When Armand fails to recover, Anne begins to suspect her father as the culprit. The plot begins to take the reader through interesting and unanticipated turns.

My favourite part of the novel, however, was "the kiss" - Liszt's kiss. Never before has a kiss been so skillfully and artfully explained. It mesmerizes the reader and I can understand why it became the title of the novel. The kiss left me breathless and I had to re-read it several times because of its incredible intensity.

Susanne has written a masterful story that enthralls the reader throughout. The characters are highly developed, varied, and interesting. Nothing is ever as it appears so the reader is kept in a state of interest until the very end. Menace, love, murder, and tragedy combine to make this tale one of the best stories I have ever read.