Us Conductors – Sean Michaels

Have you ever seen a theremin? The eerie electronic instrument which looks, when played, for all the world like the musical equivalent of an imaginary friend. My latest read is a fictionalised account of the life of the inventor of the theremin, Lev Termen, written from his point of view and addressed to Clara Reisenberg, the most famous theremin player of the time, and the love of Termen’s life.

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Cats are not very good at playing the theremin. 

I generally really like epistolary fiction; however, the rambling style of the fictionalised Termen’s letters (maybe it is one long letter, like a journal addressed to his love, and never sent) makes the flow hard to get into at first, in my opinion – although having said that, that same rambling style really gives insight into the state of the protagonist’s mind, and once I did get into the swing of it, I found that the narrative unfolded well, and earlier fragments began to be answered at what feels like an intentional pace.

Having taken a while to get going, the ending feels very sudden, and I was not expecting some of the events of the latter part of the book! I knew very little about the real Termen’s life, so his arrest and the events afterwards were a huge surprise (although not really a spoiler, since it really happened and I have just been lazy with my history!). I was very touched by some of the prose in this part of the book, and in my opinion is was worth persevering through the slow start to get to this bit.

I’m not sure I would read this book again, as the style just didn’t quite flow for me, but I did enjoy it and it did spur me to research Lev Termen some more… so I have learned things, which always makes me happy!

The book’s a prizewinner, and definitely worth at least one read – but maybe not to gobble up all in one go.

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