Sunday, May 07, 2006


"Halfway House" by Katharine Noel

This wonderful debut novel describes a family dealing with a daughter who develops bipolar disorder in her late teens. The story is told from the points of view of each family member - the father is a professional cellist in a small New England town, his wife is the much younger daughter of his former mentor, and there is a son a few years younger than the daughter.

The story covers a period of about 8 years as the family slowly falls apart from the stresses of dealing with the daughter's episodes that drag her through a series of mental institutions and halfway houses as she tests and rejects a variety of medications. Eventually everyone attains some sort of equilibrium in their lives.

Only a small portion of the story deals with the cello, such as the father retreating into his music in times of agitation, with some brief descriptions of giving lessons, listening to various concertos, life in an orchestra, escorting a "famous" soloist, etc. Here is one interesting excerpt about adult learners:

He (Pieter) usually loved teaching adults; their ambitions were small, they practiced dutifully, and they didn't expect unrealistic progress. They would frown as they played a difficult passage, one they'd struggled with for weeks maybe, then beam at his praise....

Pieter said, "I know that I'm pushing you very hard [after his impatient behavior during her lesson]. But it's because--" Because his soul rattled in his body, dry and trapped? Because she'd filled one more hour that would otherwise have been spent knocking blindly around his house? "You have talent," he lied.

She looked at him. "Really? I thought... I always sound so bad."

If he said, "no, no, you truly have talent," he'd inspire her for weeks. He wasn't able, though to give her more than, "Those cheap rented instruments." He pulled his lips back: a smile. "Next week?"

Clearly the author knows the cello and knows something about life as a cellist - whether it be herself, a family member or close friend.

Cello issues aside, this is a good one!

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