Monday, November 22, 2010
Living in Boston in 1906, Erica Von Kessler has high hopes of being an opera star. Her husband, Peter, has a differing opinion of Erica's career choice and is constantly herding her from one doctor to another in hopes of having their fertility issues resolved. When Erica and Peter engage the services of Dr. Ravell, Peter is very hopeful that Ravell's incredible advancements in the field will solve their problem once and for all. But Erica is far from being hopeful and it's her despondency over her infertility that prompts Dr. Ravell to make an extreme decision that will drastically alter all three of their lives forever. After the fateful decision of Dr. Ravell fails to bear fruit, Erica and Peter begin to grow apart and they once again rely upon the doctor to help them conceive a child together. When Erica's dreams of being an opera star begin to come to fruition, Peter, Ravell and Erica step into a dance of secrecy, deceit, and complicity that weave them together more tightly than any natural bond could ever hope to. Part historical drama and part love story, The Doctor and the Diva explores the conflicting desires of two men and one woman whose dream of the perfect child might just be their downfall.
I had serious reservations about this book stemming mainly from the feelings the title gave me. Knowing nothing other than the title, I had expected this book to be more of a bodice-ripper rather than any type of serious piece of literature. What I found was actually very surprising, because McDonnell's skill brought forth a lot of sensitive issues and imbued them with a relevance and resonance that I found to be not only abundantly entertaining, but also very provocative and thoughtful.
The situation early in the book between Erica and her husband was rather alarming. Erica's sole ambition is to become an opera singer and she was born with a voice to give this dream power. But Peter won't hear of Erica doing anything other than preparing herself to bear his offspring and forces her to consult with doctor after doctor in order to fulfill his desires. I was sad for Erica and felt that Peter was taking her dreams from her with his ceaseless badgering. The book made me feel a little angry at the realization that during this period in history, a woman existed solely to fulfill the desires of her husband and not much else. I grew apprehensive that Peter would end up controlling Erica's life and that her chance to sing would be extinguished. I didn't want Erica to get pregnant, because by doing so, she would be feeding Peter's ambition to control her life, and I felt that Erica didn't deserve that.
When Peter and Erica meet Ravell, things begin to change. Far from being a proponent of Peter's ideas, he sees a side of Erica that no one else seems to. When he questions her about her desire to have a child, she admits that it's something that she wants but it's not the only thing, and that because she has been repeatedly thwarted in her efforts, she has now become focused on the opera. When Ravell makes his decision to do the impossible for Erica and Peter, he sets into motion a series of events that are irrevocable and intense. He will give Erica what she wants, in every sense, but to do this, he must not only deceive her, he must also pay the price for his actions. As Peter and Erica's lives begin to move in harmony, Ravell's begins to fall apart, and it's arguable whether this is Ravell's due.
After a time, the three cross paths again, yet everything about them and their situations has changed. Curiously, Ravell remains dogged in efforts to please them both, though they both want very different things. In this respect, Ravell reveals his selflessness and altruism, but one can see that his motives are not always pure. As Ravell moves in and out of the couple's lives, he gives and takes in equal measure, and though Peter and Erica make their own choices, it's easy to see Ravell's hand in everything they do. These characters are all very interesting specimens, because while you can root for them and dream with them, they can also be very selfish and self-serving. In a few cases they can even become villains, though they all share this role equally. It's easy to see why they do the things that they do, but underneath, it's also easy to see how wrong they are.
When the book reaches it's final section, three lives have come full circle, and it is time for dues to be paid. This is one thing I most liked about the book. No one gets off scot-free, no one can say that they've not had to make sacrifices and adjustments. There's an undercurrent of perfectly culled drama running through this story and it remains intact without ever getting hysterical or overblown. These characters grow and change and their lives become much more than they had been. The three are also somewhat diminished by their experiences as well, which is a point I feel was handled beautifully. So much gain, yet so much loss.
Though I didn't expect to love this book, the fact is that I did and I think many others will as well. It was a touching story full of interesting ideas and perplexing questions, and those readers who like to get really invested in their characters' plights will find a treasure trove to keep them satisfied. The story was complex and involving without being overly florid and the book had the distinct advantage of being a bit on the unpredictable side. I know I'm going to be looking forward to reading more from this author and I urge you not to let the title of this book run you off. A surprisingly good read.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.
Posted by Zibilee at 8:00 AM