Musgrave, David. Glissando. Sleepers Publishing, 2010.
Glissando is remarkably close to its name in its inception and execution: a ripple across strings previously played by others, to largely dramatic effect, with a melancholic afterglow.The strings have been noted by others - Murnane and White come to mind (think plains, hidden properties, maps, remarkable houses, Voss-like travels, a melancholy narrator.)
The problem with this book to me, if there is one at all (and I think I'm nitpicking when I say this), is that dipping into such a potent mix carries the hazard of producing a pastiche from the contents. I think Musgrave manages to avoid this, but it is a narrow escape.
I do like the central conceit of the lost wager of the National Theatre, tying Murnane and White together with a bond of pure whimsy. And the empty house, Glissando, with its library containing the narrator's grandfather's journals, reminds me of another house in another book, by Alex Miller. But perhaps all that means is that Australia is full of empty settlers' homes with mouldering libraries in them.
So the worry for someone like Musgrave, following in these people's steps, is not pastiche, but simply, how to make this a memorable excursion, when one's fabric is shot through with so many other threads? Madame is a good start, as is Reggie, the narrator's disturbed brother and maestro pianist, travelling the world like David Helfgott. But I am concerned that I will mainly remember this book because it reminded me of others (and pasting in all of the travelling company from Voss doesn't help with this.) It would be better to be able to take away the deeper satire at the expense of theatre, notably at a Rabelaisian feast later in the book, but regrettably that has not stayed with me.
Nor do the notes of sadness struck in the coda act as a satisfactory recall of earlier themes for this reader - Archibald Fliess is first and foremost a narrator, and doesn't quite emerge as a full character, so it's a bit late in the day to start giving him a personality at the end, I think. Though this is not unknown in literature, of course, as many great satirists play outside the margins, do they not? Once more, the aptness of that title springs to mind.
It is pretty much imperative that one has read Voss before reading this, and reading Gerald Murnane's The Plains wouldn't hurt either. Having read David Marr's biography of Patrick White just prior was, for this reader, one of those remarkable reading coincidences - is it accident that the Fliess grandfather is a great collector, as was one of White's uncles at the fabled Belltrees? I don't think so. That music has a dying fall indeed.