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Review: The Violins of Saint-Jacques by Patrick Leigh Fermor

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The Violins of Saint-Jacques (1953) by Patrick Leigh Fermor

This tale is told in retrospect: the narrator of the story relates her tale to a man she meets towards the end of her life, and it is he who frames the story. She tells of her time living with a rich family on a French-occupied island in the Caribbean, the now long-forgotten Saint-Jacques. She describes the wealth, status, family and social drama of the time: a grand ball, elegant ladies and fine gentlemen, a daring elopement. All of this is brought to a halt in the face of a catastrophe so complete that all that remains of Saint-Jacques is her memory and a fable told by sailors of the violins that sound from the ocean where the island once stood. A richly told story, elegantly detailed with evocative language and idiom, although a few too many untranslated French words and phrases to be entirely fluid. It is a strange intersection of early nineteenth century aristocracy and melodrama set into a backdrop of utter destruction, pulling the reader mercilessly from immersion in intricate political and social affairs to a realisation that the earth holds sway over all.

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