Friday, August 6, 2010

Review: The Doctor and the Diva

Summary: It is 1903. Dr. Ravell is a young Harvard-educated obstetrician with a growing reputation for helping couples conceive. He has treated women from all walks of Boston society, but when Ravell meets Erika-an opera singer whose beauty is surpassed only by her spellbinding voice-he knows their doctor-patient relationship will be like none he has ever had.

After struggling for years to become pregnant, Erika believes there is no hope. Her mind is made up: she will leave her prominent Bostonian husband to pursue her career in Italy, a plan both unconventional and risky. But becoming Ravell's patient will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.

Lush and stunningly realized, The Doctor and the Diva moves from snowy Boston to the jungles of Trinidad to the gilded balconies of Florence. This magnificent debut is a tale of passionate love affairs, dangerous decisions, and a woman's irreconcilable desires as she is forced to choose between the child she has always longed for and the opera career she cannot live without. Inspired by the author's family history, the novel is sensual, sexy, and heart-stopping in its bittersweet beauty. -- Pamela Dorman

Based on the book description for THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA by Adrienne McDonnell, I was pretty sure it would appeal to me. I absolutely love historical fiction and I thought this book had a unique premise in that it explored a woman's desire to be an opera star and her desire to be a mother. I admit to being drawn to the historical aspects about fertility treatments, and I am always anxious to read novels that take place in exotic locations (in this case, Trinidad and Florence, Italy.)

While I did enjoy this book, there were a few things that kept me from falling in love with the story. First and foremost, I didn't really like any of the characters (this seems to be the case for me lately with quite a few books.) What was strange for me though, was that I did start out liking both Erika and Dr. Ravell. Initially, my heart went out to Erika and her almost desperate desire to have a child; and while I didn't condone some of Dr. Ravell's actions, I could almost understand him.

By the end of the novel, however, I found that I didn't really like Erika or Dr. Ravell very much at all. I thought many of their choices were fed by pure selfishness; and I definitely couldn't relate to Erika and her decision to leave her child behind. I realize that I'm not the most artistic person and I admit that I've never been driven by a passion like Erika, but I still can't understand bringing a child into this world and then leaving him or her behind (and I don't mean for a few hours every day) to pursue my career. As a mother, I just couldn't get past her actions.

While I didn't really relate to Erika, I did appreciate what the author tried to do with Erika's character. Erika lived during the early 1900s, a time when most women didn't have to deal with a conflict between a career and motherhood. She was actually a woman who was very much ahead of her time. And even though I didn't agree with much of her behavior, I will say that Erika didn't make the decision to leave her child behind without a lot of thought. She was deeply conflicted about leaving for Italy, and she did carry a huge amount of guilt with her for many years. In addition, I do think Erika eventually suffered the consequences of her actions; so in many ways, I do think some people will feel sympathy towards her.

Even though I had issues with the main characters, I realize that not liking them shouldn't have stood in the way of my enjoyment of this novel. I'd like to say that I'm a better person (or reader) than that; however, in the case of this novel, it did bother me. Having said that, I realize that I very well might be in the minority on this opinion because the praise on the back of the book is very, very good. Some authors (and bloggers) I truly respect enjoyed this book very much including Sara Gruen, Lauren Belfer and Margot Livesey.

There were indeed many very good things about this novel that I also want to mention in this review. I was extremely impressed with Ms. McDonnell's writing style, and it's hard to believe that THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA is her debut novel. I thought the historical aspects of this novel seemed to be very authentic, and I felt as if Ms. McDonnell conducted an amazing amount of research while writing this novel. I also thought her prose was, at times, beautiful; and I thought her character development was very well done. I especially appreciated that the "diva" character was based on her son's great-great-grandmother.

Another part of this book that I enjoyed was how the characters traveled between Boston, Trinidad, and Florence. All of the locations were extremely interesting in their own right, and I thought the author brought each one to life with her vivid descriptions. I truly felt as if I could picture even the smallest details because of the author's beautiful imagery.

THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA would make an excellent discussion book! There is a reading guide available (which also includes an interesting interview with the author.) I have a feeling that many women will disagree with me about Erika and Dr. Ravell's characters, so I'm pretty sure that talking about those two would make for a very fun meeting. In addition, there are many other topics to discuss including marriage, love, adultery, deception, guilt, medical ethics, parent/child relationships, and consequences. I also think it would be interesting to discuss working mothers' dilemmas as well as if the end ever does justify the means.

While I did enjoy THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA, it isn't going to be one of my favorites this year. However, I do think many readers will disagree with me and love this novel. If you are a fan of historical fiction with a strong female protagonist, then you might find yourself enjoying this novel a great deal.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I know what you mean. When I don't like the main characters it could mean it is a great book with great characterization but I still don't enjoy reading it very much!

bermudaonion said...

The book does sound interesting. You do have to wonder why she wanted a child so badly if she would end up leaving it all the time.

Jenny Girl said...

I totally understand what you mean about not liking the characters etc. I don't have kids, but I also can't condone leaving your child somewhere.
You can't like every book you read or that everyone else likes. Sometimes it's just not meant to be. Thank you for the good and honest review :)

pinkflipflops said...

I have read so many reviewsof this that I need to read it soon!

Meghan said...

It's a shame you couldn't connect with the characters - I have this for review, I'll have to lower my expectations. It just sounds so good, I hate when books become disappointing.

Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

Laura Fabiani said...

I'm having the same problem lately with not liking the characters of books I start reading. However, you almost seem apologetic about not liking the fact that she left her child behind. I don't think you need to be! This is a big deal, especially for us who are moms. I can't imagine what a child must feel to be abandoned by a mother in pursuit of a career. It must certainly have negative psychological repercussions. The book cover and the synopsis attracted me instantly though, but I know I would have reacted exactly as you did. Excellent review!

Beth F said...

I am looking forward to this and I have my fingers crossed that I'll have a better time with it.

S. Krishna said...

I completely agree with your comment about not loving characters - that seems to happen to me more and more as well! I'm not sure about this one, thanks for the review.