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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 83.
- Review Date: 2010-04-26
- Reviewer: Staff
In her book-club friendly debut, McDonnell weaves the intriguing tale of an early 20th-century opera singer torn between her career and motherhood. Erika von Kessler, a mezzo-soprano of some regard, and her husband, Peter Myrick, have been trying without success to conceive a child for all six years of their marriage. They seek out the expertise of Dr. Ravell, a Boston obstetrician renowned for his fertility successes. Ravell, mesmerized by Erika’s beauty and talent, vows to do anything to help the couple realize their dream of children, even if it means deceiving them, which, of course, it does. Meanwhile, Erika isn’t so sure about her desire for motherhood and secretly makes plans to leave her husband and pursue fame in Italy. McDonnell bases the story on her family history and expertly incorporates surprising facts about the history of fertility research into a twisting tale of miscommunication, love, and unrealized dreams. (July)
Music or motherhood?
Classic storytelling and a modern sensibility don’t always come in the same package. But readers luck out with The Doctor and the Diva, a story that touches all the old novelistic pulse points while offering keen insight on the evolving roles of women.
It helps if you, like this reader, enjoy opera, but nothing really interferes with the basic story: In the first few years of the 20th century, Erika, an aspiring opera singer, finds herself still childless after years in a loving marriage. Doctors have been unable to help Erika, but her husband Peter, a successful and adventurous botanist, consents to even more treatments by young, charismatic Dr. Ravell. Finally, with Erika on the verge of going to Italy to pursue her long-delayed career goals, Dr. Ravell produces results that leave them ecstatic—for seven months, at least. And not exactly in the way you’re thinking, either.
Based on a true story from the author’s family and letters that attest to it, this novel is powerful, especially considering the period in which it is set, with medical procedures that appear to modern readers as little more than primitive. Erika’s emotional struggle between fulfilling her musical dreams and being a loving mother are complicated by the physical and psychological limitations of the times, which can only lead to misunderstanding and bitterness.
Author Adrienne McDonnell has taught literature and fiction writing, and her talents shine in this debut. Her portrayal of multiple settings like Boston, Trinidad and Florence convey the deep feelings of her characters as well as historical fact, connecting all the deeper parts of the reader’s mind to her story.
The Doctor and the Diva is a book to treasure and recommend, far more than just a fleeting summer’s beach read.