Book Review: RICE Cry to Heaven – INKPOT

 


Cry To Heaven
by Anne Rice

BALLANTINE BOOKS
ISBN: 0-345-39693-6
(Reprinted May 1995)
556 pages

Also available in hardcover:
Knopf ISBN 0-394-52351-2

 

by David Chew.

“Slowly, slowly he swelled it, slowly he let it pulse from his
throat, this very limit of what the human voice could attain,
yet so velvet smooth and soft it seemed the loveliest sigh of
grief drawn out and out and until one could not endure it…”

For those of you expecting vampires and supernatural beings to make their mark on the Inkpot through this review, you will be disappointed. Instead, Rice deals with a whole new world of supernatural beings here – castrati.

I must admit I picked up this book with apprehension and more than a raised eyebrow worth of suspicion after a friend recommended it. After all, it was written by Anne Rice, (in)famous for what we all know her to be famous for. But imagine my surprise when I couldn’t put the book down once I started.

From start till end, we are immersed in the world of Venice and Constaninople (present day Istanbul), as the book chronicles the life journey of Tonio, a perfect societal product poised and groomed to take over the world that lies before his feet. Tragedy, however, strikes when his estranged elder brother returns after his father’s sudden death and wants to usurp the position of heir. The plot thickens like any other opera tale and before we know it, Tonio has been, well, ‘cut’.

Rice weaves a rather rich (albeit at times predictive) narrative that spans not only time but place, as we travel through 18th century Europe. What truly sets this novel apart is the ability of Rice to truly immerse the reader into the world and mind of the castrati. It is clear that an immense amount of research has gone into the making of the book, from the vivid portrayals of the eunuchs, to the weaving and intertwining of the 18th century artistic and musical world.

 The rest of the novel focuses on Tonio’s successes as a singer, and his mental nightmares that plague him for much of his life. His fear and want for revenge on his brother, his struggle to be a ‘real’ man, are the bones of the novel.

That Rice gives a very professional account of how Tonio learns to sing, and how she describe his voice and technique, is of no surprise as she reveals in the afterword, that she relied on W.J. Henderson’s “Early History of Singing” as a guide. Also, records such as “Baroque Venice: Music of Gabrieli, Bassano, Monteverdi” by Decca (1972) and Alessandro Scarlatti’s “The Garden of Love” recorded on the Deutsche Grammophon label (1964) did inspire a few scenes in the book.

A note here must be mentioned about the gore and sexual bits of the novel. In true Anne Rice style, there are truly gory scenes worthy of any R(A) rating, and explicit sex scenes (both hetero- and homosexual in nature) that litter throughout the book. There are times when it does seem understandable and appropriate that those have been inserted, but there are times when they seemed a tad excessive. Reader, you have been forewarned.

Cry to Heaven is definitely different from most of Rice’s work, but I dare say, is one of her best so far. Perhaps it is her writing, which is simple yet captivating, or the setting and place of the novel. Or it could be the subject of castrati and their magical voices. Whatever the reason though, Cry to Heaven is definitely a good read for those interested in a glimpse of the 18th century musical and art world, or for those who just simply want a good read.

Other Resources:
· as “Baroque Venice: Music of Gabrieli, Bassano, Monteverdi” by Decca (1972) Alessandro Scarlatti’s “The Garden of Love” recorded on the Deutsche Grammophon label (1964)
· Soundtrack and movie of Farinelli (1995)

On that note, DAVID CHEW is not a converted Anne Rice fan and does not intend to pick up any books on vampires or ghouls in the near future.

8xx: 22.8.2001 David Chew

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