The Vexations

Little, Brown. Jul. 2019. 464p. ISBN 9780316316910. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316316934. F
DEBUT In 1872, Erik, Conrad, and Louise Satie are sent to live with relatives after the death of their mother. When their father returns for them, he takes the boys but leaves Louise with a strict great-uncle. The siblings’ divergent lives are woven together, along with those of two of Erik’s friends, through chapters focusing on each. Erik revels in the avant-garde art and music of Montmartre but struggles to be taken seriously as a composer. His friend Philippe, a poet, collaborates with Erik but eventually gives it up for a steady paycheck. Erik begins a love affair with artist Suzanne, but the two part when Erik is unable to be what she needs. Louise’s life takes a very different path, first toward great happiness, then unfathomable loss. Even Conrad, the most stable sibling, is not spared from difficulty.
VERDICT Horrocks turns what could have been a maudlin retelling into a heartbreakingly beautiful novel about the sacrifices people make for what they hold dear. Readers need not be familiar with composer Erik Satie (1866–1925) to appreciate his story, but many will feel compelled to seek out recordings of his music after reading this book. [See Prepub Alert, 12/3/18.]
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