Title: Every Note Played
Author: Lisa Genova
Published: April 1st 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
From the bestselling author of STILL ALICE comes a powerful and heartbreakingly moving exploration of regret, forgiveness, freedom – and what it means to be alive.
An accomplished concert pianist, Richard’s inspired performances received standing ovations from audiences all over the world. Every one of his fingers was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.
Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralysed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce – his divorce.
Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralysed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.
When Richard is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.
Lisa Genova, best known for her novel Still Alice, which was made into a major motion picture, resulting in an academy award for leading actress Julianne Moore, is back. Lisa Genova is a great campaigner for neurological based medical diseases. In Every Note Played, Genova pits a famous concert pianist against the debilitating ALS or Motor Neuron disease. It is the same disease which finally claimed the life of world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, just over a month ago.
Richard is a concert pianist at the top of his game. When he visits his doctor with a suspected case on tendonitis, he leaves with a life altering diagnosis. Richard has ALS, a disease which will slowly and surely rob him of his ability to play the piano among many other things. As the disease takes its toll in Richard, eventually Richard can no longer care for himself. Karina, Richard ex and the mother of his child Grace, comes to the rescue and Richard moves back into their marital home. Karina reluctantly steps into the role of Richard’s carer, but she harbours many past hurts and resentments. Richard is also estranged from his daughter Grace and his own father. As the disease makes its presence known, Richard must confront his past grievances, finding it in his heart to right past wrongs and attain a sense of peace before it is too late.
Every Note Played signals the third novel that I have read by the bestselling author of Still Alice fame, Lisa Genova. I am always quite astounded at Genova’s ability to bring yet another neurological condition to the forefront of her novels and she does it again with her latest release. Overall, I would best describe my experience of reading Every Note Played as educative, penetrating, piercing and deeply honest. It is confronting and hard going at times, but it is worth persisting with this important tale.
At the centre of this tale is respected professional pianist Richard. Richard first came across to me as an arrogant, unlikeable and imperfect character. He has made mistakes in his life and is estranged from a number of family members as the book opens. Still, my sympathies towards Richard strengthened as the book progressed. I found it truly awful watching his fall from grace. From his first diagnosis, to the slow and painful progression of losing control of nearly all parts of his body, the whole experience is just heartbreaking to witness. Genova takes a seething approach to highlight just how powerful this disease is when it takes hold. She carefully catalogues the medical issues at the heart of the disease and the nonstop regression it takes on its prisoners. It is a disease we learn does not discriminate, it doesn’t target any particular set of people. ALS can touch anyone, at any time. Many scenes involving the loss of bodily functions and Richard’s loss of control over his body, as well as his life, were gut wrenching scenes. Genova also juxtaposes Richard’s loss over the physical aspects of his life, to the emotional semblance he gathers at the book progresses. Watching on as Richard tried to make amends with estranged family members and come to terms with the downfall of his marriage was a poignant journey that I appreciated following.
Genova’s fine characterisation extends to the other narrator in this novel, Richard’s ex, Karina. Karina is also a character who has her flaws and she has also made some mistakes during her life, which Genova extends upon. We witness Karina’s forgiving and kind nature as she takes Richard, her ex, back into the home, despite it being a painful, as well as a draining move. Through the character of Karina and daughter Grace, we gather a sense of understanding as to how ALS effects family members and those who unconditionally take on the care of sufferers of this disease.
The secondary characters are also a highlight in Every Note Played. Recognition must be given to Bill, Richards’s carer. Bill is a true champion for carers and the tireless work they perform every day. These miracle workers are truly amazing and Genova gives us a glimpse of their world through Richard’s team of carers, such as the endearing Bill.
Music features as an undercurrent in this novel. If you are a fan of classical music and jazz this novel will have added appeal. Personally, it was a nice offset to the stark tone of the novel. I loved the placement music had in the final moments of the book. Music also presents a form of hope to Karina, a woman with an unfulfilled dream to work in the jazz music field. The added little motif of a musical note on each page printed on this novel was a nice touch. I think it gently reminds us just how important music was to Richard’s life and that he should not be defined by his diagnosis.
It is clear that Genova is passionate about raising awareness to ALS, through the publication of her novel, Every Note Played. There are some personal reasons why Genova chose to write this novel and to specifically share the story of a sufferer of ALS, which is covered in the ‘Acknowledgements’ section of the novel. There is no faulting the level of dedication and research Genova has conducted to inform her novel, it is a comprehensive and revealing snapshot of ALS.
I can recommend this novel to all readers, especially if you appreciate well researched psychological based stories.
Every Note Played by Lisa Genova was published on 1st April 2018 by Simon & Schuster. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Every Note Played, Lisa Genova, visit here.
*Please note that a free copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes through Beauty and Lace and Simon & Schuster. To read the original review on the Beauty and Lace website please visit here.