Fiction about a musician
January 1, 2012 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Looking for fiction books about musicians, especially with a single musician as the main character

I'm looking for a good, engrossing book about a musician, preferably a solo musician (classical or jazz style preferred, rather than a pop/rock/punk/indie, etc.). The kind of book that will have Dos Passos-style evocative descriptions of this lone musician (maybe a violinist in worn clothing) sometime in the early twentieth century in an American or European city near dawn on some streetcorner playing a sad song that only some lonely writer in an apartment nearby is listening to. That doesn't literally have to happen, but it's the stereotypical image that's rattling around in my brain and that I'm itching to read about. Any help? Short stories would work, too.
posted by grokfest to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's more modern than you're looking for, but I found Jane Langton's "Divine Inspiration," a mystery about church musicians, a great read.
posted by lazydog at 4:37 PM on January 1, 2012

Not everything you want, but Rafi Zabor's The Bear Comes Home.
posted by ldenneau at 5:17 PM on January 1, 2012

I have not read Stone Arabia, and it's more contemporary, but your question reminded me that I was intrigued when I heard about it.
posted by headnsouth at 5:46 PM on January 1, 2012

You might enjoy An Equal Music by Vikram Seth.
posted by unsub at 6:38 PM on January 1, 2012

The fantasy books "Changeling" and "Madwand", by Roger Zelazny, have a musician as the protagonist.

There was supposed to be a third novel in that series, but Zelazny died without writing it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:48 PM on January 1, 2012

What about R.L.'s Dream? Blues not jazz, with early 20th century elements rather than the entire setting (which is pretty modern), but a story with a lot of depth.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 6:56 PM on January 1, 2012

I read Stone Arabia a few weeks ago. The main character is an aging, self-destructive rock musician who creates and obsessively chronicles the life of a more-famous alter ego while pissing away his own life. It is very much about the solitary, creative life of an artist even though it's more contemporary than you describe. I didn't like it as much as her previous book, but that's neither here nor there. It's well-written and from the point of view of his sister.
posted by book 'em dano at 8:42 PM on January 1, 2012

Half-blood blues, by Esi Edugyan. She also won the 2011 Giller Prize for it!
posted by foxjacket at 9:57 PM on January 1, 2012

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love is a beautiful novel that seems about like what you are looking for.
posted by thelonius at 2:23 AM on January 2, 2012

Doctor Faustus, by Thomas Mann. The main character is based on the composer, Arnold Schönberg.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 3:19 AM on January 2, 2012

Not sure it has quite the right vibe, but Espedair Street by Iain Banks is an excellent book about a musician who used to be with a hugely successful band, but now lives alone in an almost-church with the unsold East European trade goods.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:49 AM on January 2, 2012

So far, the closest hit stylistically is thelonius' The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which I intend to read soon. The Bear Comes Home looks really intriguing, too - kind of like making a book out of the Pension Grillparzer, from the first few pages on amazon.

But I'm still not quite getting that foggy, twilit image that I was looking for. Kind of nostalgic but melancholic at the same time. Maybe it's too cliche to even exist outside of hollywood movies. But I will hope still!
posted by grokfest at 4:23 PM on January 2, 2012

This may be way off-base since I'm not sure if I fully understand what you're looking for, plus it's about a sixteen-year-old girl, but your question brings to mind the book Midnight Hour Encores by Bruce Brooks. It's about a cello prodigy, very centered around music, and definitely has what I would consider a nostalgic but melancholic feel (although focusing on the sixties rather than earlier in the century.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:02 PM on January 2, 2012

Midnight Hour Encores reads like a great book though nothing like I am looking for. It reminds me a bit of Someday Angeline by Louis Sachar, one of my favorite kids/YA books that I sometimes return to.

Last night I found a book at the bookstore that, surprisingly, may have exactly fit the bill. Accordion Crimes by E. Annie Proulx. I like her writing style, and the story follows an accordion through the lives of several owners.
posted by grokfest at 9:46 AM on January 3, 2012

Here's another image if maybe it helps; a book like the animated movie The Illusionist (originally L'illusioniste, not the one with Edward Norton) except with a musician main character instead of a magician. However, I'm really more concerned with the image than what it's actually about, so if it's about something other than a musician, suggest it anyway.

These images here from the movie: 1 2 3 4 5

If looking at these images reminds you of any book at all, suggest it and it might end up being exactly what I'm looking for, even if I don't know it yet.

Here are some more images to add to the impression: 1 2 3 4 5

And maybe, the kind of image you might imagine starting with some empty street and then listening to Blue in Green from Kind of Blue.
posted by grokfest at 1:52 PM on January 3, 2012

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