Redmon (Nightingale), Anne
Many first novels are laced with literature and for most it is a fatal ingredient, but Emily Stone has such a strong and original flavour that one begins to look for comparisons only after finishing it.
It is a measure of the craft—in both senses of the word—with which Anne Redmon's first novel is written that its heroine is nowhere described as behaving like Heathcliff. Yet there are distinct similarities in the disastrous effect Heathcliff and Emily have on other characters' lives as well as in the peculiarly inhuman and at the same time vulnerable, temperament which causes both to feel contempt for and to act malevolently towards 'ordinary' human beings. Emily Stone's chief victim is a shallow but warm-hearted girl who befriends her at school, where she has hitherto been an outcast and introduces her into her home; the parallel with Heathcliff's philanthropic introduction into Wuthering Heights seems deliberate.
Much of the book's success derives, I suspect, from its villain being its narrator and from the fact that this character's villainy precisely consists in her stony intelligence….
The setting however is not at all like Wuthering Heights. The action takes place in three London households, each representing a particular and unerringly observed segment of the upper middle class: academic left-wing Puritan in Fulham, raffish semiartistic non-political in Sloane...
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The Times Literary Supplement
Curiously few books have been written on the theme of friend-ship, doubtless because the varying intensities of love are so much more obviously gratifying to the situation-hunting novelist. Yet the qualities of close friendship, factors of influence, jealousy, sympathy and argument, have in themselves sufficiently subtle possibilities to make one wonder why succeeding generations of novelists should have failed to explore them in any depth….
[Emily Stone] is a work which does, and one whose distinctions are not limited merely to its theme. Anne Redmon's eye for telling background detail is very sharp: her characters are firmly and convincingly lodged in that metropolitan world which uses the term "middle class" as an instrument of pleasurable self-flagellation….
So few contemporary novelists show any interest in creating character that we might almost have thought it buried with Waugh and Huxley. The joy of a first novel like Emily Stone is its revelation that the art of character-making is substantially alive….
But it is more than a heightened sense of character and atmosphere that makes this book so satisfying. Miss Redmon's narrative style has an unaffected gusto, a notable lack of modern stinginess that at once places the work above the level of utter Drabble and third-degree Murdoch that we might otherwise have expected. Is it hoping too much to see in her use of the...
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"Emily Stone" is a disturbing study of two prevalent personality types: the bleeding heart and the computer mind. Peter [Emily's husband] is a bleeding heart, not in the usual political connotation but in an entirely egocentric sense. Caving in is the only kind of commitment he can manage. Irony and style are his sole restraints; beneath these, he is a swamp of sentimentality. A theatrical suffering is his way of mourning for the lost paradise of his childhood….
All Emily can offer him is order, a rational formula for living, for not exceeding one's limits. Thinking will be their voluptuousness….
Emily and Peter are all right together, aloof and absorbed in their books, until her friend Sasha contracts a fatal illness. As Paul Valéry's "Mr. Head" said of himself, their syllogism is debased by agony. Peter debauches himself with Sasha's suffering. It releases the feminine side that has festered unexpressed in him until it turned morbid and hysterical. Suffering, for him, is a therapy run amok, an inversion of his inhibitions.
Emily is obsessed by privacy, which is a kind of virginity to her, or a vaginismus. She is so dignified that she hates even eating, which she sees as a carnal concession. Sex with Peter is a sacrifice made in the name of order, an exorcising of Sasha's approaching death. "There is a certain frivolity about death," she feels. It can undo you, if you dwell on it....
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One of the pleasures of reading is discovering order and beauty in unexpected places and from unpromising materials. Two lonely women living in converted flats in an aging house in the Victoria section of London do not appear at first to be the subjects of a compelling narrative. But even before we are drawn into the characters' lives, we are captivated by Anne Redmon's gracefully nuanced and musical prose [in "Music and Silence"]. We are prepared to trust her story because we are so quickly persuaded to trust her language.
One of the principal characters, Maud, is a cellist…. Through momentary fragments of recall, bits of dialogue and some straightforward narration, Maud's life and character gradually take shape. And while repeated references to chords, variations and harmonies bind her internal life to her capacity for artistic expression, they also point to Anne Redmon's narrative method. She sounds themes and notes, weaves them together, appears to abandon them, only to circle back in new keys and tones. Near discord is continuously resolved into harmony….
[Beatrice, a physician, is] religious and compassionate, but frozen in her seeming inability to accept or offer love. When Maud's life is threatened by an insane evangelist, Beatrice forces herself to come to the younger woman's aid. Their solitudes, guilts and gifts intertwine in a counterpoint of haunting subtlety. Miss Redmon's sentences—long, supple,...
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Beyond the antithesis of her title, [Music and Silence], Anne Redmon suggests in this disturbing and emotionally violent novel, is the antithesis of good and evil, represented here by two women: Beatrice, a doctor who derives little comfort from her compelling need to relieve the sufferings of her fellows but plunges the more despairingly into the rigours of prayer and contemplation; and Maud, a talented, guilt-ridden young cellist unable to lay the ghosts of her horrifying childhood and broken anew by the shattering of the relationship with her teacher, Alba…. [The] apparently random and menacing irruption into the women's lives of a religious maniac fuses their destinies in an appalling way…. The pace is uneven, the development frequently obscure, the style at times almost self-indulgently baroque, but the novel has considerable strength and energy and a descriptive richness that lingers in the mind.
Susan Kennedy, "Catching Up, Fiction: 'Music and Silence'," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1979; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4002, November 30, 1979, p. 76.
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The Virginia Quarterly Review
["Music and Silence" is an] ambitious, troubling novel set in London and dealing pointedly with so many grand themes that it comes across rather unfocused and shallow for all the attempt at depth. Still, Anne Redmon's second book is a brave portrayal of two pathetic women and a religious fanatic who struggle to accomplish many things…. The plotting is a pleasure to follow; and, if one can bear up under the self-searching, self-contradicting, self-flagellating monologues of the principal characters, Ms. Redmon's language at times reaches such rhythmic, melodic beauty as to make one hear as music her words upon the page.
"Notes on Current Books: 'Music and Silence'," in The Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1980, by The Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 56, No. 1 (Winter, 1980), p. 14.
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