Thursday, May 10, 2018

Review and Giveaway: ECSTASY by Mary Sharratt

Seeking to supplement a famous man's public persona with intimate detail, authors of historical fiction often choose the man's wife to narrate his story. It's not often that the woman herself has the potential to rival her husband's brilliance, but such is the situation Mary Sharratt explores in her latest novel, ECSTASY (HMHBooks, April 2018). Written from the close third-person perspective of Alma Schindler Mahler, wife of composer Gustav Mahler and a gifted composer in her own right, ECSTASY examines Alma's difficult position in turn-of-the-twentienth-century Vienna. In an era and locale where women were still expected to surrender their own aspirations to the duties of marriage and motherhood, Alma suffers tremendous anguish as she attempts to reconcile her musical ambitions with her awe of her husband's genius.

The novel covers the years 1899 to 1911, from Alma's nineteenth summer through the year of Mahler's death. Though Alma would outlive her husband by half a century to lead a colorful, liberated existence in Austria and New York, it is the years she spends in Mahler's shadow that determine the future course of her life. Daughter of a noted painter, Albert Schindler, and stepdaughter of Carl Moll, one of the founding artists of the Vienna Secession, Alma grows up surrounded by artists and intellectuals. Encouraged by her parents, she studies piano and composition and has composed a series of lieder for piano and voice by the time she meets Mahler in 1901. After a whirlwind courtship, she marries the much-older conductor in 1902, only to abandon her studies when Mahler insists there be only one composer in the family. The bulk of the novel details Alma's struggle to subjugate her ambition and desires to the dictates of her husband's artistic life and marital expectations. The demands of motherhood, tragedy, and her husband's work schedule and frequent touring sap Alma of her mental and physical strength until she finds herself at the brink of a breakdown. Only then, having lost her grip on her true self, does she find the courage to engage in behavior that forces Mahler to reevaluate their relationship and the validity of his wife's talent and dreams.

Sharratt faces a difficult task in capturing the essence of this contradictory woman, by turns meek and courageous, passive and pioneering. A fundamental ambivalence defines Alma: she relishes her role as helpmate and muse, facilitator of her husband's genius, even as she increasingly resents how catering to his needs forces her to deny her own. At times, this ambivalence renders her frustratingly submissive; at others, she commits rash, impulsive actions that almost defy explanation. The thread that binds Alma's warring selves together, that creates a whole from contradictory parts, is ecstasy: the ecstasy she experiences listening to her husband's glorious music crash over the concert hall; the elation she finds in furtive composing and amorous dalliance; the rapture she and Mahler share at intimate moments of their difficult but enduring relationship. Just as Mahler incorporates cowbells and hammerblows into symphonies of voice and instrument, to stunning effect, Sharratt probes the limitations and frustrations of Alma's marriage in order to better celebrate the ecstasy of life lived in unbounded appreciation of creative beauty.

Luscious in language and beautiful in execution, ECSTASY is a novel to savor. Though the belle époque world it evokes in brilliant detail might be distant in time, the challenge Alma faces--that of extracting her self from the confines of duty and expectation to relish the fullness of life--is one that women continue to face today. Alma Schindler Mahler--muse, mother, and musician--can help them triumph.

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a paperback copy of ECSTASY. To enter, please follow the link below.

Giveaway Rules

--Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on May 18, 2018. You must be 18 or older to enter.
--Giveaway is open to US residents only.
--Only one entry per household.
--All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud is decided upon by the blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
--Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. Her critically-acclaimed novels include SUMMIT AVENUE, THE REAL MINERVA, THE VANISHING POINT, THE DAUGHTERS OF WITCHING HILL (reviewed here), ILLUMINATIONS, and THE DARK LADY'S MASK (reviewed here). Sharratt is also co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules. For more information, please visit Mary's website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads

To follow the ECSTASY blog tour, click here.







Mary Sharratt said...

Dear Julianne, thank you SO MUCH for this beautiful, detailed, insightful review.

Julianne Douglas said...

You're so very welcome, Mary! Ecstasy is a beautiful book, as your books always are. I'd be hard-pressed to choose my favorite!

Amy Bruno said...

What a fabulous review, thank you so much Julianne!

HF Virtual Book Tours

Julianne Douglas said...

You're welcome, Amy! Thanks for including me on Mary's HFVBT blog tour.