Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story
Reviewed by Tyler R. Tichelaar for Reader Views (4/08)
“Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story” by Ruth Sims follows the lives and loves of three men, two of them musicians, one a novelist, in England and France at the end of the nineteenth century. The characters’ lives focus on their musical and writing careers. Their loves focus on their relationships with one another. The homosexual and artistic tendencies of the characters reminded me of the luscious and attractive vampires of Anne Rice, and while Sims’s characters are completely human, they seek immortality through their art by trying to break the conventional bonds of their society. The characters of Dylan and Geoffrey are younger than their mentors, Laurence and Schonberg, and while their mentors are masters in their arts, Dylan and Geoffrey are more unconventional and trying to accomplish great new things in a restrictive Victorian society that resists change and tries to repress creativity. The novel’s plot is relatively uncomplicated, but its development of its characters and their relationships keeps the book moving forward.
“Counterpoint” also provides a light treatment of nineteenth-century life, including what prisons, music halls, and class structure were like in Victorian England. The sexual mores of the Victorian era did not allow for homosexual relationships, so the characters are also faced with being outcasts in that respect, and their relationships are very close and kept silent from the larger world, making it difficult for people to understand that closeness and even to accuse one character of trying to steal from his mentor because of their close bond.
The novel’s villains – Schonberg’s brother and sister-in-law – are reminiscent of the most unlikable, rude, yet supposedly well-mannered characters of Jane Austen. The final denouement of the novel turns upon a Will and a discovery typical of Dickensian novels. The slightly bohemian lifestyle of the characters reminded me of George Du Maurier’s “Trilby.” Sims has created a luscious, sensuous Victorian world of music and male love with overtones reminiscent of the works of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and George DuMaurier. Clearly, the author has immersed herself in the Victorian era and its literature in creating a novel set in that period.
The title “Counterpoint” refers to the variation or alteration in a musical theme. The characters are themselves a counterpoint to their society as is the music they create. Lovers of music will enjoy the book and this twist on the title. Anyone who enjoys Victorian England will also enjoy reading “Counterpoint.” I hope Sims continues to write about this period and her artistic characters.