Sunday, October 2, 2022

Review: Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary by Laura Stanfill

The Blanchard family in Mireville, France has long been master craftsmen in the making of serinettes, hand-crafted barrel organs used to train canaries to sing particular pieces. This gives them quite a high status among their fellow villagers and indeed among the other music makers as well. Georges Blanchard is born a colicky baby whose noisiness disturbs his father as he tries to hear each musical note. When Georges finally stops crying and is taken to the village to show the others, the perpetual gloom that has shrouded the village breaks and in a miracle, the sun comes out. Henceforth he is known as the Sun-Bringer. Problematically, the sun does not go away, which can be interpreted several ways. This is the family into which Henri Blanchard is born, son of the Sun-Bringer, quiet and sensitive boy who doesn't fit in with the other village boys, son destined to inherit his father's workshop but who wishes to learn the art of bobbin lace making like the women in the town, a family in which he has much to live up to.

This is a gentle story with elements of the fantastical and it reads like a fairy tale of sorts. Henri wants acceptance, from his father and from the others in town. He only know pieces of what make him an outsider (showing his emotions; his father's, and therefore his, status in the village; spending time with girls) but when a large secret is revealed and then an unbelievable talent is uncovered, he comes to a more complete understanding. The novel has a unique premise even while it addresses familiar issues like friendship, parenting, acceptance, and a search for selfhood. Henri is a tender and appealing character and his discovery that serinettes, while beautiful and skillful music boxes, repress canary's natural chirps and trills is very much a metaphor for his own young life. The village women seemingly have no power and yet their small rebellions show this to be untrue and ultimately culminate in something major. Stanfill's writing is beautiful, giving the novel an elegant and timeless feel. There are some fairly big plot lines that simply disappear here and the end of the story might be hard for some readers but I thought it gives the novel a hopeful, continuation sort of feel. This is an unusual, intriguing story with many layers and one that readers looking for something different should give a chance.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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