by Nancy Burkhalter
Beaulieu Delhomme is a rudderless young man when we first met him in The Education of Delhomme, set in mid-19th century France. By chance, he becomes a piano tuner and captures the attention of Frederic Chopin. He is quickly assimilated into Chopin’s inner circle run by his lover, the female writer, George Sand, whom Delhomme detests. Unbeknownst to Chopin, Delhomme has been recruited to spy on George Sand for the French Monarchy. However, as socio-political unrest begins to overtake Paris, Delhomme realises too late that his allegiances are misguided and he is arrested for treason.
The Education of Delhomme is a beautifully accomplished novel. Beaulieu Delhomme is an interesting main character; as George Sand states in Chapter 38, ‘There is much to dislike about Delhomme’. In the beginning he is rather feckless, and for the majority of the novel makes bad decisions based on unsound moral judgements. Although he professes to adore Lili and expresses remorse for her treatment at the hands of Vidocq, it does not seem entirely genuine which makes him appear quite heartless and emotionally disconnected from her. Yet he has an insecurity and a simple, childlike construct of the world which is endearing, if not maddening, at times. Chopin is the real star of the novel. He is not simply regurgitated from history but written with genuine understanding, respect and emotion. I thought Sand only came into her own at the end of the novel, she was a little ambiguous until then and although her earlier diary entries were revealing, personally I felt they lacked the character of a journal.
The plot encompasses a plethora of actual events and people; it’s a real tour de force in parts and Ms Burkhalter’s personal investment in both research and emotional involvement shines through. You are swept along by the plot; it’s intriguing, interesting and absorbing although I did find the narrative sluggish in a few places and sometimes I felt the prose was trying to be a bit too clever. However, as a whole, the writing is consummately skilled. One of the final chapters where Delhomme reminisces about a late Summer morning in Marainville contains some achingly lovely descriptions. The account of Delhomme’s trial was gripping and there is some gruesomely visual writing in the chapters where he attends Medical School and is incarcerated in the Conciergerie Prison.
Personally, I found the Author’s Note and Glossary really useful, thoughtful and professional additions especially if you have little musical knowledge and no talent, like myself.
A polished, absorbing and intelligent read that is both rewarding and educational. Highly recommended. Buy from: