The Baron Next Door

Written by Erin Knightley
Review by Nancy Henshaw

Charity Effington has been subjected to gossip amongst the ton after a scandalous broken engagement. She seizes the opportunity to visit the city of Bath with her grandmother during its first music festival. Music is her joy and consolation, the pianoforte her chosen instrument. Charity may have a chance to perform at the festival if she practices long and hard. She fills the rented house with music until she is assailed by the Baron next door.

Hugh, Lord Cadgworth loathes music, especially the loud and exuberant and his harsh denunciation is insanely violent. Is he actually a maniac or simply an outrageously unpleasant bully? Their houses have adjoining balconies leading to inevitable meetings and irresistible attraction. Hugh strives to understand Charity’s passion for music; she cannot account for his extraordinary mood swings. In the house next door Hugh, a veteran of the savage battle of Waterloo, retreats to wrestle with the agonising aftermath of his injuries while Charity has other trouble. She knows the performance she will give with her friends, sprightly Sophie and worldly May, will be exceptional but an old rival is intent on ruining her chances.

The plot is light, American-English must be accepted and introspection makes the pace slow. But this novel has two great virtues: one is a frightening depiction of full scale, seemingly untreatable migraine; the other a wonderfully enlightening description of a talent so rare that deprivation is worse than hunger and thirst – almost of breathing. This is exciting, powerful writing.