Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay

Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay Hardcover | Paperback
Book Depository: Hardback | Paperback

Life lived spontaneously, like music played from sight reading. 

Synopsis from On a warm spring day in Boston, Hazel spots Remy for the first time in years. Though their meeting might seem insignificant, Remy, a gifted violinist, is married to Scottish conductor-composer Nicholas Elko--once the love of Hazel's life, now struggling with a masterwork he cannot fully realize. In the twenty years since their collective world was tipped on its axis, these three artists have faced unexpected joys, mysterious afflictions, and other puzzles of life, their fates irrevocably interlaced.

Unfolding across two decades, from Europe to America, from conservatory life to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Sight Reading explores how the quest to create something real and true--be it a work of art or one's own life--can lead to deeper personal revelations, including the secrets we keep, event from ourselves.

My two cents

Disclosure straight off: I like classical music and have a few musicians in the family, including a violinist so this one definitely piqued my interest!

Sight reading is a skill musicians must possess -- it's playing straight from the sheet music and is quite nerve wracking (or so I've heard). I've listened to many many hours of practice sessions, recitals and musical competitions; I've always viewed being a musician as a vocation, without a passion for it, a musician becomes a mere technician.

This novel draws us into how life can be complicated, made moreso within the subculture of music. Musicians, composers, music academics -- their lives are steeped in the banalities like all of us -- but they have their music which they are bound to in a special, even spiritual way.

The book opens rather innocuously on a gorgeous spring day with Hazel treating herself to a pedicure -- she is happy yet something triggers her memory and we slip back into the past. We are then brought into the past 20 years of triumph and anguish of their musical careers, family lives and friendships.

Music as a metaphor for life. This book lovingly weaves musical themes into some rather profound insights about life. I never felt these little musically-laden insights were forced and flowed as the story worked itself out.
"It's about the passage of time, really. In our lives -- not just the page. You know how sometimes everything seems to keep rushing forward, but then at other times things are peaceful and still? How sometimes we feel stuck in time, or just plodding along day by day--and then suddenly it's as if time's passed us by, or we're being hurried along too quickly. That's what tempo is about. That's what we're expressing. Not just how fast or how slowly the music moves. It's about how fast and slow life moves."

The characters are real people -- extremely flawed, emotional.

Remy, a gifted violinist, is unsure of herself even in the beginnings of her career but after playing in second violin for years and never making her way up in the orchestra, she holds on to her dream of doing so much more.

Nicholas is a brilliant conductor (and Hazel's husband) is among those (rather annoying) gifted people to whom success comes easily; but he is emotionally detached, romantically clueless, and rater immature.

Then there is Hazel, the only non-musician in this cast of three, who is by association drawn into the music world; a beautiful woman in her own right and a loving and supportive wife and mother.

I can't not mention the character I loved the most: Yoni, Nicholas's colleague and friend and someone who witnesses Remy and Hazel in their relationships with Nicholas.


Thank goodness this novel has its saving grace in its theme, its complex characters, and the lyrical writing ...  because the plot could have easily become simplistic and predictable. In a nutshell: Nicholas has an affair with Remy and leaves Hazel and their daughter Jessica. Remy marries Nicolas but their relationship becomes rocky and both turn to other people and things for relief. Jessica grows up happily in both her parents' households. Hazel remakes her own life and remarries. The ending: you'll need to find out!

Verdict: An unusual treatment of how flawed lives lived out against the backdrop of a musical subculture. 

Read this if:
  • you're a classical music lover, a musician or a music professional. You may appreciate the musical nods more (or less? depending on its accuracy). 
  • you're simply someone who'd likes a peek into the music sub-culture, this book will at the least pique your interest. 
  • you'd like a different take on a classic love triangle

About Daphne Kalotay 

Daphne Kalotay is the author of the novel Russian Winter, which won the Writers’ League of Texas Fiction Award and has been published in twenty languages, and the fiction collection Calamity and Other Stories, which was short-listed for the Story Prize. A MacDowell fellow, Daphne holds a PhD in modern and contemporary literature and an MA in creative writing, both from Boston University, and has received fellowships from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, Yaddo, and the Bogliasco Foundation. She has taught literature and creative writing at Boston University, Skidmore College, Middlebury College, and Grub Street. Co-president of the Boston chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Find out more about Daphne at her website, and be sure to like her on Facebook!
Check out the entire tour here.
I received an Advance Reader Copy through TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. 

Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay Hardcover | Paperback
Book Depository: Hardcover | Paperback

Hardcover: 352 pages 
Publisher: Harper (May 21, 2013)


  1. I found the plot to be quite complicated, actually, or at least the relationships between the characters which the plot revolved around. I found Kalotay's writing made the telling feel effortless, though. I enjoyed this one.

    1. I sort of had a chick lit feel to the plot. And I'm with you -- what complicated lives these characters lead!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the characters and the musical theme. Thanks for being on the tour!

  3. I'm not sure if it is my cup on tea but I love the cover and I'm pretty intrigued. Maybe my library will have it.


© guiltless readingMaira Gall