Monday, November 22, 2010

The Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell — 432 pgs


Book CoverLiving 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.

17 comments:

Amy said...

This sounds rather interesting zibilee. Is it based on actual people and events?

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds so interesting. I am really curious to know what the three of them were up to! I know what you mean too about titles and book covers being misleading. It's such a shame!

Jenny said...

I was JUST thinking last night that maybe I should give this book another chance (after getting frustrated because of the non-infertility issue I posted about on my DNF review)... I don't know if I'll get around to it anytime soon though. Sounds good though for sure. Great review!

Zibilee said...

Amy,
This book wasn't based on actual people, but the medical advancements used for treating infertility were real, and parts of the story were somewhat loosely based on the events of a relative of the author.

Nymeth said...

I love it when a book surprises me like that :)

bermudaonion said...

The title does give the impression it's a bodice ripper - I'm glad to see it exceeded your expectations.

Audra said...

Thanks for the review -- the set up kind of makes me uncomfortable (it just sounds like it's set up for lies and infidelity and heartache!) so I'm not sure I'm going to read it -- but your review has me reconsidering.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Yes it does sound like a set-up for a book that is going to make you angry or break your heart. I am definitely curious about what the heck is happening between the three of them that can have such lasting repercussions!

irisonbooks said...

I agree that the cover and the title do make this sound like a book I wouldn't enjoy, but from your review it sounds very interesting.

Suko said...

Wow! I am so impressed with your review. This book sounds incredible, Zibilee.

Darlene said...

Wonderful review Heather! This book sounds amazing. I'm not sure the title of the book fits with everything you've said about it either. I'm always just appalled by the lives women had in the past where they had to live to make their men happy. Thank goodness that has changed for the most part. I'm glad you really enjoyed this novel- it sounds well worth reading.

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I've had this one on my wishlist for awhile. I really want to read this! Great review! It sounds like a book I would love.

Jenners said...

Well you just made me all kinds of curious with this review!

Pam said...

Like you, the title and cover give the impression that there's just going to be way too much steam. From your review, though, it looks like something I should be picking up. Thanks for braving the waters so the rest of the doubters will have good, un-steamy reading. :O)

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I passed on this one, but now I need to reconsider. Glad to see you enjoyed it.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I've seen a few reviews for this one and I just love the premise of it. First of all, set in Boston (my favorite US city), and secondly, it involves some education on the medical community during the turn of the century, which has always been freakishly interesting for me. And now that you like it, well...I'm even more excited to read this one!

Wendy said...

Wow, I am so glad to see you loved this one because I am behind in reading and reviewing it...and now you have spurred me on to get to it soon! Thanks for the awesome review!

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