June 26, 2020
Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Post-Civil War Southwest, Western
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A diverse, scrappy, hard-working, risk-taking, and loyal group of four forms a band…and Simon pursues love.
Simon is the fiddler and leader, and other members include Doroteo (guitar player), Damon (whistle player), and Patrick (bodhran and bone player). On the eve of the Confederate surrender, Simon notices a lovely Irish girl, Doris, who is an indentured servant and governess for a colonel’s daughter. Simon can’t forget Doris as his ragtag group travels Texas striving to put their lives back together at the end of the Civil War and build their reputation. He vows to find her again, rescue her from her dire situation, and propose.
A Strong Sense of Place: If you love a story with a strong sense of place, the lyrical and descriptive prose of Paulette Jiles does not disappoint.
Characters: I loved Simon and his devotion to music, Doris, and his band members. Simon cares deeply for all of it and demonstrates leadership abilities. The band members are described but not fully developed. I wish we knew more about Damon. He seems like such an interesting person! For those who have read and love News of the World, Captain Kidd makes a brief appearance!
Themes: Paulette Jiles always delivers on thoughtful and poignant themes. In addition to loyalty, friendship, risk-taking, love, hardships, grief, and chasing a dream, music is an important theme throughout Simon the Fiddler:
Strange how an instrument in your hand made you the innocent of the world.
He knew that he did not play music so much as walk into it, as if into a palace of great riches, with rooms opening into other rooms, which opened into still other rooms, and in these rooms were courtyards and fountains with passageways to yet more mysterious spaces of melody, peculiar intervals, unheard notes.
Music is clean, clear, its rules are forever, another country for the mind to go to, and so this search for employment among the drinking places of Galveston did not bother him. To Simon, the world of musical structures was far more real than the shoddy saloons in which he had to play. Nothing could match it, nothing in this day-to-day world could ever come up to it. It existed outside him. It was better than he was. He was always on foot in that world, an explorer in busted shoes.
Music: Other books I’ve enjoyed with themes of music include The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom, The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce, and Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan. In fact, in The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, Mitch Albom states: “Everyone joins a band in this life…” Simon and his band members played literal music in their band, but they also formed a bond, a family, and took care of each other. Everyone needs to join a band in the metaphorical sense of the word. I often thought of the words from Frankie Presto during the reading of Simon the Fiddler.
Overall: I think the strong sense of time and place is a not-to-be-missed element in Simon the Fiddler and there’s much to appreciate in the lyrical and descriptive writing. Extensive research conducted for the writing of this story is evident. Simon is an interesting character and my concern for his wellbeing and his quest for love kept me turning pages. Although I enjoyed and appreciated the unique premise of the story, I didn’t love it in quite the same way that I loved News of the World.
Recommended: Simon the Fiddler is a great read for fans of Paulette Jiles, for those who love a strong sense of place and well-researched histfic, for readers who love the post-Civil War era (especially in the southwest), for music lovers, and for book clubs.
My Rating: 4 Stars
Meet the Author, Paulette Jiles
If you are a Paulette Jiles fan, you might enjoy this fascinating article involving a recent interview (thanks Debi for bringing it to my attention!).
Paulette Jiles was born in Salem, Missouri, in the Missouri Ozarks. Raised in small towns in both south and central Missouri, she attended three different high schools, an exhausting process of social dislocation and fashion wobbles, and with relief graduated from the University of Missouri (KC) in Romance Languages. After graduation she worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto and in the far north of Ontario and in the Quebec Arctic, helping to set up village one-watt FM radio stations in the native language, Anishinabe and Inuktitut. She became reasonably conversant in Anishinabe but Inuktitut was just too much. Very hard. Besides she was only in the eastern Arctic for a year. Work in the north lasted about ten years all told.
She taught at David Thompson University in Nelson B.C. and grew to love the British Columbian ecosystems and general zaniness. She spent one year as a writer-in-residence at Philips Andover in Massachusetts and then returned to the United States permanently when she married Jim Johnson, a Texan. Has lived in Texas since 1995.
She and her husband renovated an old stone house in the San Antonio historic district and amidst the rubble and stonemasons and ripped-out electrical systems, she completed Enemy Women. She now lives on a small ranch near a very small town in the Texas Hill Country with a horse and a donkey. If you want a free donkey, please let her know. She plays Irish tin whistle with a bluegrass group, sings alto in the choir, rides remote trails in Texas with friends. Her horse is named Buck. News of the World (William Morrow) was a finalist for the National Book Award.
My website is paulettejiles.com. I review books and say shocking things and include outrageous pictures.
Have you read Simon the Fiddler or is it on your TBR?
Have you read News of the World?
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