The Musical Novel
Imitation of Musical Structure, Performance, and Reception in Contemporary Fiction
Camden House 2014
The Musical Novel: Imitation of Musical Structure, Performance, and Reception in Contemporary Fiction (Camden House, 2014; a new paperback edition has recently come out (Boydell and Brewer, 2018)) examines a variety of music and literature interconnections. Readers are invited to ask what these collaborations that arise at the crossing points of various fields offer for engaging in reading and writing. Relying on an extensive overview of theoretical works that substantiate the overlapping of disciplines, Emily Petermann’s research provides additional coordinates for the definition of intermediality that underpins her examination of novels that embrace music.
As the title of the book suggests, Petermann considers multiple ways in which music is incorporated in literature: structure, performance, and reception. An extensive segment of this research is devoted to the discussion of musical structures that writers bring to their texts. In this regard, Petermann takes a step forward in the examination of music and literature collaborations. By emphasizing the significance of the musical structural component that informs a literary text, the book suggests a more profound dialogue between music and literature.
The Musical Novel offers a detailed discussion of jazz elements that turn out to be effective for the organization of literary texts. Although this aspect has been previously discussed by scholars, Petermann focuses on the structural overlapping, drawing attention to improvisation elements. In this interview, Petermann specifies that despite the temptation to draw parallels between jazz and textual structuring, improvisation in literary texts, however, should be perceived as a metaphor. This comment invites the consideration of how musical and literary works affect both performance and reception.
The Musical Novel contains a few chapters and subchapters that delve into a detailed analysis of Bach’s Goldberg Variations: Bach’s masterpiece appears rather productive for literary borrowings and variations at many levels, including structure and content. These chapters are particularly illuminating in terms of the dialogical opportunities that music and literature offer and welcome.
Emily Petermann’s book offers an opportunity to explore new ways not only for reading and writing but also for teaching: one of the questions that this interview raises is how musical novel can be read and taught. The Musical Novel welcomes the expansion of the territory of interdisciplinary borrowings and collaborations.