Saturday, April 18, 2020

Review: Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

Paulette Jiles is a gorgeous writer. Her News of the World was one of my favorite books of 2016. Simon the Fiddler, her latest novel, is set in the same half-tamed Western world as News of the World. In fact, Simon plays a role in that book and the main character there, Captain Jefferson Kidd, makes an appearance here. And the books are related beyond setting and characters. They have the same beautiful flow to them, evoking the same sweeping musicality, the same tug of lawless danger and possibility that covered so much of Texas in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

Simon Boudlin, formerly of Paducah, Kentucky, has spent much of the Civil War playing his fiddle and evading the conscription men by hiding or running. Only at the very tail end of the war does his luck run out whereupon he's conscripted into the Confederate Army. His talent on the fiddle saves him after the South's surrender and his ensuing fight with a Union soldier to reclaim his stolen hat and fiddle, keeping him out of prison, putting him instead at a party to entertain the officers and their wives. It is there that he first lays eyes on Doris Dillon, a pretty Irish indentured servant working her contract off as governess to Colonel Webb's daughter. Simon is smitten and despite what he hears about the Colonel's character, he resolves to find and marry Doris once he has something to offer her. He is determined to earn the money and buy himself a good piece of land.  So with the company of two men and a boy he played with that fateful evening, he sets out to do just that. The band travels from war torn Galveston to brash Houston and finally to occupied San Antonio with Simon ever leading the way, getting ever closer to a showdown over the woman he has loved from afar.

Simon is a confident and determined character. He is economical not only with money but with words and feelings, pouring his all into his precious fiddle and the occasional fight he didn't start but will finish. The secondary characters are also fully realized and if they sometimes disappear off into the mesquite and scrub of the Texas landscape, it feels right and expected.  Jiles does an amazing job of drawing the time and the place with all of its potential, both to succeed and to fail.  There are adventures in the novel but they feel slow and deliberate, always working toward the destination Simon has in mind. The prose is languid and hot feeling and the dirt and grit seep through the characters and the place and the plot. The love story is measured and not flashy but steady and relentless. Simon's love of music and his tender care of his fiddle speaks of the soul of him. Some might find this moves too slowly but for readers who want to appreciate the singing of language, this stunning read will satisfy at a bone deep level.

For more information about Paulette Jiles and the book, check our her author site, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a completely lovely book, thank you for being on this tour! Sara @ TLC Book Tours


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