The Music Lesson, The

The Music Lesson, The

by Katharine Weber


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"She's beautiful," writes Irish-American art historian Patricia Dolan in the first of the journal entries that form The Music Lesson. "I look at my face in the mirror and it seems far away, less real than hers."

The woman she describes is the subject of the stolen Vermeer of the novel's title. Patricia is alone with this exquisite painting in a remote Irish cottage by the sea. How she arrived in such an unlikely circumstance is one part of the story Patricia tells us: about her father, a policeman who raised her to believe deeply in the cause of a united Ireland; the art history career that has sustained her since the numbing loss of her daughter; and the arrival of Mickey O'Driscoll, her dangerously charming, young Irish cousin, which has led to her involvement in this high-stakes crime.
How her sublime vigil becomes a tale of loss, regret, and transformation is the rest of her story. The silent woman in the priceless painting becomes, for Patricia, a tabula rasa, a presence that at different moments seems to judge, to approve, or to offer wisdom. As Patricia immerses herself in the turbulent passions of her Irish heritage and ponders her aesthetic fidelity to the serene and understated pleasures of Dutch art, she discovers, in her silent communion, a growing awareness of all that has been hidden beneath the surface of her own life. And she discovers that she possesses the knowledge of what she must do to preserve the things she values most.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780609603178
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/29/1998
Pages: 178
Product dimensions: 5.64(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

Katharine Weber lives in Connecticut with her husband and their two daughters and spends part of the year in West Cork, Ireland. She teaches fiction writing at Yale University.

Read an Excerpt

Forty-one, Patricia. I can't believe it at all. Look at you. You've been sealed up in some kind of cryogenic storage. In West Cork, the women have no teeth of their own by forty-one, they have chin whiskers, their dugs are down to their waists, they've dried up completely," he said. "When I thought to look up me fancy New York cousin, I never thought I'd be gattlin' after you. I thought you'd remind me of me mam, or me granny, or Sister Margaret from school. She was a terror, that one.

These remarks, uttered on our third or fourth night together, might have offended me had they not been murmured by Mickey as he lay sprawled in my bed, idly tracing a line down my bare hip with one intoxicating fingertip.

I had been in cold storage, until Mickey. How can I explain what it is about him? How can I describe the attraction in words? It feels so primitive at times that I am almost afraid of it -- it, my desire for him, my obsession. Mickey has changed me. Everything has been rearranged.

Years ago I saw a television documentary about heart transplants that fascinated me. The donor heart, which has been kept on ice, is warmed up and placed inside the chest where the diseased heart had been moments before. After hours of surgery, the moment of truth comes when the clamps are removed and blood flows into this new heart, which has been chilled and still for several hours. Warmed by the circulating blood, the heart slowly begins to do what a heart is meant to do -- it starts to beat again.


Now with the deepest evening darkness of late December pressing against the windows, we lay twined together like satiated kittens.

I eyed him and put my head back down on the bony indentation below his sternum.

"What do you mean, pick one out? One what? A painting?" I listened to the quiet steady thump of his heart. "There's one over there," I said languidly, pointing to the framed poster from the Matisse in Morocco show that hangs on my bedroom wall. "It's very blue that painting. Very Moroccan. Very Matisse." I wasn't really paying attention yet.

"What I mean is, on a purely theoretical basis, If I showed you a group of paintings, would you automatically know which one was best?"

"Oh Mickey, of course, sure. You bet. The Patricia Dolan prize for excellence is awarded to...this one." I reached up and pressed my fingertips to this philtrum, which is perfectly formed, like that of a Raphael angel. His lips parted a little, and I slid my index finger down and slipped it between them. We were like children, always touching, always playing. He welcomed my finger with a brief touch from the tip of his tongue, just for an instant, but then he pushed my hand and turned his head away, suddenly serious.

"Do you think," he asked in a measured voice, very slowly and deliberately, keeping all of his consonants rounded up instead of letting them blur at the edges, "very seriously, Patricia, given your expertise in Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century, that you could pick out the best Vermeer from a group of paintings that are all by Vermeer?"


Sometimes I study her for so long that I need to get away from that room, and I go for a walk along the cow path that passes by the cottage and goes around the hem of the cove and up the opposite side. At the edge of a field where the cow path doubles back, I like to climb through a barbed-wire fence that's there to keep cows in, not the likes of me out, and then I walk across a series of crooked ancient fields toward the sea, all the way to the rock at the top of the cliff -- I'm not sure which -- is called Ardnageeha, which means "height of the wind."

The Dutch painters of the seventeenth century were not afraid of the wind. Think of those skies filling the canvas; think of those towering dark clouds, those windlashed trees. At Ardnageeha, I imagine Jacob van Ruisdael beside me, working with his characteristic probity, painting the wind's portrait.

Copyright © 1999 by Katharine Weber. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

What People are Saying About This

Allen Kurzweil

Part dirge, part jig, part lyrical ballad, The Music Lesson lures the reader into the world of art theft, the Troubles, and the vagaries of desperate love. Katharine Weber has written a novel suffused with the haunting language of the Irish landscape, its fecund enticements and ever-present terrors.

John Hollander

A beautifully and knowledgeably told story of moral negotiations between art and the rest of life, Katharine Weber's compelling novel balances intrigue and meditation, freshened always by her eye and ear for the landscape and people of southwestern Ireland.

Dame Muriel Spark

The Music Lesson is very moving, at times terrifying, and throughout entirely gripping. A really important novel...I look forward to reading her other books.

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The Music Lesson, The 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
lahochstetler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel tells the story of Patricia Dolan, a middle-aged art historian who finds herself in the midst of a mid-life crisis of epic proportions. The book opens with Dolan in the midst of a large-scale art heist, which removed a Vermeer from the clutches of none less than Buckingham Palace. Dolan is holed up in a cottage in a tiny, remote Irish Village with the stolen painting. How an American art history professor came to find herself in this situation comprises the first three-quarters of th book. The rest brings the heist to its dramatic and suspense-filled conclusion. At the outset of the book Patricia Dolan finds herself stalled in her career, divorced, and greiving the death of her daughter. She finds solace in a long-lost, decades youngr cousin who tumbles into her life and becomes the other half of Dolan's torrid love affair. It's the fling with this Irish cousin who launches Dolan into an Irish Liberation plot to steal a British-owned Vermeer. I found this book undeniably slow to get going. The details of Patricia's relationship with her cousin Mickey were not especially interesting. What was interesting was how an unassuming professor came to find herself in the midst of an international art heist. For as exciting as this book should have been, it simply was not. The characters were not especially well-developed, and were not always believable. The most interesting entity in this book is the painting, The Music Lesson. Perhaps this is intentional. The best-expressed emotion in this book is Patricia's love for the painting. The final, dramatic ending is the highlight of the book. Getting there, however, is slow going.