Saturday 5 December 2020


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Virtuoso by Yelena Moskovich    {Reviewed by STELLA}
A body lying askew in a hotel room greets the reader on entering Virtuoso. The author Yelena Moskovich describes the deceased woman with filmic quality as the observer runs their eyes over their lover, noting in documentary style the position of the body, the hand, fingers splayed on the carpet, rose-coloured, the ‘knee a gasp’. In the very next paragraph, the eyes turn on the wife as she throws the bag of lemons to the floor and makes a desperate lunge towards the body. In this moment, much is revealed. We are introduced to Aimee and later in the novel her life with Dominique plays out. This is just one of the female relationships explored in Moskovich’s second novel—stories of love, betrayal, desire and identity. In this heady, accomplished tale we meet Jana and Zorka, two teens growing up in 80s Czech republic; Aimee, a Parisian medical secretary; and Dominique, an ageing actress—Dominxxika_N39 and o_hotgirl Amy_o having an on-line romance through a lesbian chatline. The former, an Eastern European wife kept under lock and key—sometimes literary—and the latter, a Mid-west American teenager. These lives become connected by a myriad of consequences and coincidences either in actuality or through shared experiences or themes. Moskovich stitches with sharp needles, cuts with a rusty knife, yet brings life and love into these women’s lives in spite of the violence and the dislocation which attacks and surrounds them. The friendship and teen romance (lust) between Jana and Zorka is reminiscent of the girls in Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, each dealing with parents who are angry, disappointed, or mad—and in Zorka’s case, a violently insane mother. Their childhood is rich and elaborate in imagination, and poor in resources and care. Both teens leave the East on different trajectories. Zorka disappears (to America), while Jana remains determinedly studying languages and escaping to Paris to become a translator. These passages of the novel are endlessly fascinating and the interplay between the two young women is wild in a youthful and reckless manner. Aimee’s life, by comparison, is easy (on the surface)—a father who adores her and all money can buy in cultural experiences—yet it is not until she meets Dominique that she is truly happy, for a while. The chatroom romance slices into these two stories when you least expect, bringing some humour but also an edge of dangerous disillusionment to the text. Bringing all these strands together in a novel that cuts between the present and the past is quite remarkable. Moskovich's turn of phrase, language and pace is all her own—surprising, strange and encompassing. While there are echoes of Ferrante in the development of close female friendships, there is also the weirdness, the dream-like smokescreens and uneasy violence of filmmaker David Lynch, making the novel a spliced undertaking of trippy dark hauntings and realist actions. 

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