Strange Music

Written by Malcolm MacDonald

Eight couples share a large Hertfordshire house in the years following WWII. Many of the couples are involved in the arts – five architects, a sculptor, two publishers, a children’s author, and two BBC technicians – and all of them are dedicated to their Dower House community. The first book in the Dower House trilogy centers mainly on Felix Breit, a renowned sculptor and concentration camp survivor. Strange Music continues his story, but shifts its focus to Faith Bullen-ffitch, an English publishing executive. As the couples begin to expand their families, some Dower House members leave, buying property nearby. This brings new faces to the Dower House. The new members of the community bring with them youthful energy and creativity as well as a host of problems the community must overcome. In addition, the Dower House must contend with the Tribe, the tight-knit band of children who live at the Dower House.

While I enjoyed the first book in the trilogy, this second offering did not delight me as much. Malcolm Macdonald writes in a particular style that is enjoyable in small doses but is demanding over the long haul. First, a reader not familiar with The Dower House might have difficulty keeping track of the eight couples and their fourteen children as well as all of the new members of the community in the three years Strange Music covers. Even though I’d read The Dower House, I had trouble keeping everyone straight. Macdonald’s dialogues are wonderfully witty, but with minimal setting descriptions, very little inner monologue, ongoing character development, and no clear story arc, it feels like one is reading a miniseries rather than a novel.