The healing powers of music.
First Published: 16th May 2016
Date Reviewed: 23rd May 2016
Margaret dies early in the marriage; Steven is devastated but knows he must keep going. One day his colleague at school invites him to a concert and though Steven has no knowledge of music he enjoys it, and comes to enjoy the company of his colleague’s childhood friend. His loss will always be with him but in Margot and her music he sees light ahead.
Trio is a book set in the couple of years prior to the Second World War that looks at sadness, tragedy, and the way we deal with it. A beautiful work of literary fiction, it’s full of originality and sports a lovely uniqueness.
And then the gas masks came. In every classroom, throughout the lunch hour, came the struggle to fit the things on, the coughing and heaving at the rubbery smell, the helpless laughter as the trunks were waved about; the trumpeting.
‘Look at you, Hindmarsh!’
‘Look at yourself, Potts. You look prehistoric.’
‘All right, boys, that’s enough.’
Gee’s been writing for years and it shows. Her writing style is rather like a script; the author includes description in the third person but will then switch to dialogue in a way that means you hear a lot more about the situation in a sort of faux first person. Many of the descriptions of thoughts turn out similarly. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes but it is something that everyone is likely to appreciate, at the very least. It’s a literary dialogue, at once between the author and her characters – rendering them in a realistic fashion – and also between the author and the reader, both a breaking of the fourth wall and a hiding behind it. It means that every single character who speaks – every pupil in Steven’s class who gets a mention – stays in mind as though they were all main characters.
Sadness informs most every part of this book. It’s everywhere but Gee never lets it burden the text itself, meaning that whilst this book may be triggering if you’ve recently lost a loved one, it’s not a book you’ll need to avoid for long. But whilst not burdening the text, Gee never covers up, showing how sadness carries on, lingers far longer than our speaking of it shows. In this way she demonstrates how that point wherein society says ‘okay, enough moping now’ shouldn’t be taken as wholly as we often do – everyone suffers losses and it’s okay to refer to it in the future.
There are various tragedies: Steven’s loss of Margaret, a person’s ‘loss’ of the friend they are in love with (twice over in this case), the way a rebuff of affections can lead to awful conclusions. Many of the losses are connected but few are vocalised. Gee uses a bit of mystery in order to explain certain emotions – they aren’t mysteries you need to work out as it’s pretty clear who is who and what is what, it’s that the emotions need to be hidden between the characters because of a feeling of shame or worry that is down to their situation, their relation to one another, and the time in which they are living.
The book is fantastic right up until the last couple of dozen pages. Everything ebbs along and you’re ready for the inevitable start of the war and in seeing where it takes the characters and then suddenly you’re pulled forward to our present day. There is no conclusion to Steven and his friends’ stories, instead you move on to the latter years of Steven and Margot’s son, a person you’d not met. Why this was done is not clear – presumably it was so that we could learn the outcome of everyone’s lives, but this is small compensation; the information could have been provided in an epilogue or, because there’s really only one character you ‘need’ to hear about, communicated naturally at the end.
As for the musical episodes they are mainly good, if a bit overwritten. Steven’s lack of knowledge means that Gee goes into a lot of detail, romanticising the sounds and effects of music; when it’s part of the subtext it’s glorious. The trio of the title don’t quite make the book what it is – that’s Steven’s role – but they play their part; it’s more that they’re the ones through whom people are connected.
Trio is difficult to put down. It’s a gorgeous escape back in time that for all its – needed – sadness, is gripping. The end does come out of left field but the overall product is wonderful.
I received this book for review from the publisher.
May 29, 2016, 4:00 am
This sounds like a good one! I don’t read much historical fiction, but I like a good WWII story now and then.
June 6, 2016, 8:59 am
Laurie: This is a good one in that respect. No actual action of that sort, more information about living through it – the beginnings of it, at least.