3 out of 4 stars
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Revolving around the story of George Frideric Handel, a well-known oratorio composer in the 18th century, Finding Handel by Helen Dymond is a historical fiction story that puts us into the thick of things during a troubling period in this talented composer's life. "I must recover, I must write the music that I know is still in me. Time’s running out; something’s happening to my eyes." - Page 28. These were sixty-five-year-old Handel's thoughts after an accident on the way to Haarlem, Holland, left him badly injured and recovering in the care of a hermit, Brother Valentius, and his help, Agnes, with his whereabouts unknown to his friends and admirers, who begin a search for him.
While Handel recuperates, he takes us on a trip down memory lane while he assesses his growth, victories, losses, and place as a German composer working in Britain. At the same time, he struggles to complete his final oratorio, Jephtha, before he loses his sight. His time with Brother Valentius would impact him in ways he never saw coming, even raising questions about his beliefs.
I must say that I enjoyed this read, as it not only transported me back to a fascinating period in history, 18th-century Britain, but it also introduced me to a legendary composer who had an intriguing personality. The author displays the in-depth level of knowledge she has on the subject's background to put this story together, especially detailing some of his works and the inspirations behind them and their meanings, from Messiah and Theodora to Music for the Royal Fireworks and Almira. Handel's portrayal as a very determined man and one who knew what he wanted and always strived for perfection endeared him to me.
Another aspect of the book I liked was how well Helen Dymond captured the period in her writing. She expertly immerses readers in the thick of scenes by employing a highly descriptive writing style to provide heightened imagery, especially when it comes to the dialogue. Handel's description of art on page seventy-eighth is one that I will not be quick to forget: "How many days did I gaze at Bernini’s Baldacchino, drinking in its beauties? Its sculpted golden rays streaming from St Peter’s throne right up to heaven, the painted ceiling of the Gesu with its saints flying out in all directions? And for the first time I saw, or rather felt, the livid blackness of chiaroscuro against a backdrop of blinding Roman light."
Also, the story highlights the suffering of women in that period, showing how they were sold and maltreated, even by their husbands. Besides Agnes, who suffered the same fate working for an abbot she was sold to, Mary Delaney, an artist, one of Handel's passionate fans, and one of my favorite characters, suffered rape as a child. Her staunch resistance to this rampant maltreatment of women stands out throughout the novel as well.
On a negative note, one thing I did not like about the book was that I found more errors than I would have liked while reading. A professional editor's touch will definitely improve the overall quality of the book. Also, I was a bit confused at times at the beginning of several chapters since I could not figure out who was speaking or who some of the chapters were focused on until I read further. Including a heading with the character's name in focus could have helped in this area.
All things considered, Finding Handel was an enlightening and exciting experience. Within its pages lies the story of some brilliant minds, and I appreciate the author for introducing them here, especially the main character. I rate this book three out of four stars. The errors I found convinced me not to award the maximum rating. Nevertheless, mature readers who enjoy historical fiction and Handel's works will enjoy reading this book.
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