Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 2, 2010

Virtuoso (2008), by Sonia Orchard, read by Humphrey Bower

True confessions time: I have had Sonia Orchard’s The Virtuoso on my TBR for a while, but I had forgotten about that when I borrowed it as an audio book last term…And then to make matters worse, I forgot to blog it or journal it, until this week when I saw it mentioned as a possible contender for the Miles Franklin Award.  Oh the guilt!

It is a very good first novel indeed.  It’s yet another story of obsessive love (I’ve seem to have read a few of these lately!), based very loosely on the life of the Australian concert pianist Noel Mewton-Wood (1922-1953), and an (entirely fictional) nameless young music student who adores him.   They meet in London in 1945, when concerts go on in defiance of the Blitz and, war notwithstanding, there is still a bohemian scene which encompasses a sophisticated homosexual milieu (even though homosexuality was illegal and risky). Before long Mewton-Wood and the student are lovers, but the passion of the affair is not entirely mutual; the student doesn’t understand that Mewton-Wood has other lovers and that his overwhelming passion is for his music.  The student is not a reliable narrator; he thinks he’s much more important to Mewton-Wood than he really is and his devotion makes him completely blind to Mewton-Wood’s occasional cruel mockery.  This is partly because he’s naive, but his account is also coloured by the fact that he drinks too much, and that his fantasy about the significance of the affair is influenced by his own desire to be part of Mewton-Wood’s circle.

Virtuoso is a delight for music lovers.  Orchard writes deftly about the music that captivates these two.  Mewton-Wood was a brilliant musician and you can listen to a sample of his playing at the ABC Shop  – where you can buy an accompanying CD of the pieces that are so carefully described.

The Virtuoso was featured (with an authentic excerpt featuring Mewton-Wood) on the Radio National Book Show and there’s a link to an interview with the author at MatildaDiana Carroll at the Independent  loved it,  and there’s a review at Flinders Academic Commons if you can get the file to open (I couldn’t).

Audio Book Cover of The virtuosoAuthor: Sonia Orchard
Title: The Virtuoso (audio book)
Narrator: Humphrey Bower, audio sample
Publisher: Louis Braille Audio
ISBN: 978 1 74212 317 2
Length: 9 hours (8 CDs)
Source: Casey Cardinia Library

Book details:
Publisher: Fourth Estate (Harper Collins) 2009
ISBN: 9780732288075
Source: Personal library


  1. […] but it’s been a long time between novels, so I refreshed my memory of the theme from my review, to find that in this new novel — though the plot is entirely different — once again it’s […]


  2. […] Orchard’s The virtuoso (2009) (Lisa’s ANZLitLovers review): While Richardson’s The young Cosima draws on the life of Richard Wagner, and the pianist […]


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