The Vexations

Written by Caitlin Horrocks
Review by Viviane Crystal

Erik Satie (1866-1925) became a famous composer during La Belle Époque in Paris.  This novel is a creative depiction of what was behind his musical genius, which moved away from Romanticism and standard melodies, just as art was going through the same transformation from portraits and landscapes to the “ism” movements, as in Picasso’s cubism. Erik saw normality as irrelevant and provoking jealousy.

A devastating childhood with a mother who died too young, a father who has a breakdown and abandons his children, life in a highly strict boarding school while his sister is farmed off to live with a deeply religious great-uncle, and years spent living hand-to-mouth in Paris are inspirational in ways most people would reject.  Satie believes that meaning is nowhere and that the expression of stories and objects are indefinable fragments that may be strung together for an audience.

These pages take us through the relationships he had with his friend Philippe, Claude Debussy, his lover Suzanne Valadon, and other famous artists. His life will make a reader redefine family. After playing in cafes, he finally begins to compose puppet plays, operas, ballets and his famous Gymnopédies, which win him popularity and vexing criticism.  His later life is full of drinking and pouncing on critics, with poverty ever-present.  If you’ve ever wondered about what lies behind creative genius of any kind, this is your book.  Sometimes difficult to read but quite thought-provoking, The Vexations makes history come alive about eccentric, artistic development.  Amazing historical fiction!