Motherless Child by Marianne Langner Zeitlin (Zephyr), 351 pages, $19.50 paper. Rating: NNNN
Marianne Langner Zeitlin doesn't exactly crank it out. Motherless Child is her third novel in three decades, but that long gestation has definitely paid off.
In what turns into a real page-turner, Zeitlin mines her experience as an orchestra manager to delve into the workings and personalities of a classical music agency.
Elizabeth applies to become assistant to music mogul Alfred Rossiter, a man she's hated all her life. Her mother left her embittered father, Dominic, a brilliant concert pianist, for the mercurial entrepreneur, abandoning Elizabeth as an infant and allowing her new husband to sabotage Dominic's career.
Elizabeth, using an assumed name, goes to the interview just to clap eyes on Rossiter, certain she won't get the job, but the old man likes her instantly - she's smart, mouthy and knowledgeable - and takes her on.
She can't resist, though it means having to maintain her elaborate lie, which gets more difficult by the day. Things become more complicated when she discovers she's attracted to Rossiter's biographer, George, who can't figure out why she's so evasive about anything personal.
Music lovers will get a charge out of the way Zeitlin brings to life the competitive vibe of the classical scene. But you don't have to know Bach from Bartók to appreciate this story. Zeitlin creates some vivid characters, especially bogeyman Rossiter, who turns out to be more complicated than Elizabeth expects. She herself is hopelessly conflicted, desperate for the truth in the face of family members expert at obfuscation, yet afraid to face facts. And the story unfolds like a mystery, with lots of tension.
Not sure why the cover blurb identifies Zeitlin's 1991 novel, Next Of Kin, as a Toronto Book Award winner - it was shortlisted only. But don't hold her publisher's mistake against her. Motherless Child is a great read.