Puccini's Ghosts

by Morag Joss

Following the death of her elderly father, opera singer Lila du
Cann (a stage-name reinvention of her original name, Eliza Duncan)
returns to Burnhead, the gray, rainy, dreary Scottish town of her
childhood to arrange for his funeral and to put his affairs in
order. As she sorts through boxes of old papers and props stored in
the attic of the damp house, Lila's mind travels back decades to
1960, her fifteenth summer, when her ordinary life --- and the
lives of those around her --- were turned upside down.

Eliza's mother Florrie (stage name Fleur), whose own dreams of
opera stardom were dashed when she got pregnant, has never forgiven
her husband for robbing her of a career and of misrepresenting his
own career prospects (he trained as a lawyer but, due to serving
time in prison, was unable to practice law). During her childhood,
Eliza's parents bicker constantly --- about their run-down house,
about money, about everything. When domestic life becomes too much
for Eliza's mother, she retreats into her music room, listening
endlessly to recordings of Puccini's opera Turandot.

Through a mildly comic misunderstanding, Eliza leads some of the
townspeople to believe that an amateur production of
Turandot is in the works. When Eliza's beloved uncle George,
a music teacher, is called up from London to rescue Florrie from a
nervous breakdown, he impulsively suggests that such a production
is actually feasible. George discovers that Eliza can sing, finds a
venue (an unused barn), recruits chorus members, musicians and
stagehands, and prepares to put on a show.

The central characters of the opera will be played by Eliza's
mother and one of George's music students from London, Joe Foscari,
who comes up to Burnhead as a special favor to George. Joe --- with
his Italian name, sophisticated way of speaking and London address
--- is a hopelessly romantic figure to naïve young Eliza, who
falls headlong into her first crush. At first the attraction seems
fairly innocent --- Eliza fusses about her clothing, imagines the
couple's first kiss and daydreams about their romance. But as her
visions of a shared future with Joe grow more and more serious
(even though they have no basis in reality), Eliza's crush borders
on obsession and sets in motion a series of events that will
destroy the lives of those around her.

Told in chapters that alternate between a third-person account of
the events of the Turandot summer and Lila's own
first-person narration of her present attempts to sort through her
father's documents, the novel gradually intertwines these
perspectives, illustrating not only the unresolved emotions that
still haunt Lila but also the extent to which those emotions have
deeply damaged her, even decades later.

Morag Joss's character-driven narrative becomes fascinating once
the cast of characters is fully introduced. It takes a while for
the novel to gain momentum toward its ultimate goal, but once
rehearsals for Turandot are underway, readers will be drawn
in by the series of events that march, inexorably, toward the
inevitable resolution. Framed by the storyline of Puccini's opera,
PUCCINI'S GHOSTS is simultaneously a captivating (and even, at
times, surprisingly humorous) behind-the-scenes account of a doomed
theatrical production as well as an in-depth psychological portrait
by one of our most promising new suspense authors.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011

Puccini's Ghosts
by Morag Joss

  • Publication Date: July 31, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Psychological Suspense
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Delta
  • ISBN-10: 0385340907
  • ISBN-13: 9780385340908