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March 1, 2013

Book Notes - Linda Olsson "The Memory of Love"

The Memory of Love

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Linda Olsson's The Memory of Love is a moving and compelling novel that eloquently explores the fragility of friendship and love.

New Zealand's Gisborne Herald wrote of the book:

"Linda Olsson writes beautifully, capturing the fragile nature of her characters and the beauty of the rugged landscape around her with great precision and subtlety. A hugely evocative book. The story gets under your skin and will live on long after the final page has been turned.""

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Linda Olsson's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Memory of Love:

My novels are the markers of my time. I go back to them and I can sense the atmosphere of the time when I wrote them. I am not inside it anymore, but I can remember the emotions, the smells and the sounds. And the music. Although I am not musical – I can't read music, can't play an instrument and can't for the life of me sing in tune - music is very important in my life, and essential for my writing.

The Memory of Love was written over a couple of particularly sad years in my life. When I began writing, I had just divorced my husband after a very long marriage. I thought that this would mean that I would leave New Zealand where I have lived for more than twenty years, and return to Europe, something I had thought I was welcoming. Instead, I found myself completely bewildered and filled with a chaotic mixture of conflicting feelings. I was here, in Auckland, New Zealand, most of the time, but my mind travelled constantly, unsure of where to settle. The writing was slow and meandering, and eventually I ended up writing the manuscript twice, once in English and once in Swedish – a very inefficient process, but perhaps a reflection of my state of mind. And perhaps necessary. The writing was also my lifeline, and a kind of therapy. As the book slowly evolved, my life slowly evolved, too, and I was surprised and relieved when in the end, both the book and I came out of the process much more positive than I had ever envisaged.

As I now return to the music of The Memory of Love, the memories from the time of writing it flood back. It is not sad, just a little melancholy. Like my character Marion says to the little boy Ika: 'A little happy in a sad way.'

There is a lot of piano music, of course. It is when Marion returns to her old piano and begins to retrieve the music she thought she had lost, that she discovers the musical connection between her and the silent little boy Ika. The music becomes their way of communication. And this is the power of music. It evokes fundamental human emotions and it speaks in a universal language that crosses all borders.

This list of music represents my journey with Marion and Ika. Like Marion I live far removed from my birth country. Marion was born in Åland, a cluster of islands in the Baltic Sea, between Sweden and Finland, now officially a province of Finland. She then moves to Stockholm, Sweden, and then on to London. As an adult she ends up in New Zealand. Her geographical journey is not unlike my own. But her life's journey is not mine, we just came to share two years accompanied by this music that spoke to both of us and propelled us forward. And I suppose that we are forever connected. Not the least by the music that we share.

"Peace Piece," Bill Evans
from the album The Best of Bill Evans

This song feels like the main score for the book. I often play it when I do public readings. I must have listened to it hundreds of times, but it still moves me. It is also the piece of music that Marion is trying to teach herself to play when she discovers the little boy Ika listening in, just outside the window. It is an improvised piece of music, and I think now that the process of writing this book was, too.

"Saavu / Arrive," Markku Lepistö
from the album Polku/ Path

The accordion is like all instruments in one, and in the hands of a master like Markku Lepistö it produces the most sensitive and moving tunes. It is also strongly associated with the Finnish music tradition. This song represents Marion's happy early childhood, a time of absolute love and security.

"Love in a Cold World," The Life and Death Orchestra
from the album Songs for the Betrayed World

This is poetry by Holocaust survivors put to music by The Life and Death Orchestra, a fluid group of musicians. It was presented as a musical in the UK, and is now being filmed. As with all good music, and all good poetry, it penetrates the heart with its fundamental humanity.

"Lonely Lady" Pepe Belmondo
from the album The Hermit's Waltz

This is for Marion, the lonely lady of my novel. There are different kinds of loneliness, not all sad. I like to think that Marion explores them all, and that she reaches a state where the only loneliness she keeps, is the chosen kind. Moments for reflection and recuperation, necessary and soothing. And not at all sad.

"Pojken på Månen/ The Boy on the Moon" Rikard Wolff
from the album Pojken på månen

Rikard Wolff is a Swedish actor, poet and singer, and this song, I think, is autobiographical. He sings about the little boy he once was, afraid of the dark, but also bravely willing to take risks for love. I play this song for Ika, the little boy who in his inarticulate way is also braving the dark in search of love.

There is a boy sitting on the moon, singing a gentle song.
Love, love for the sake of love, love just once, just once, just once.

"Minnesblad / Album Leaves," Tor Aulin, Semmy Stahlhammer, violin and Love Derwinger, piano
from the album 1900 Swedish Turn of the Century

To me, this music sounds so very Swedish. The tunes evoke distant memories of a world where time moved slowly, summers were endless and winters magically covered in snow. A world where traditions were adhered to, and life seemed predictable. I think Marion would look back on her early childhood a bit like that.

"Liebesleid" "Kreizler," Itzhak Perlman
from the album Itzhak Perlman's Greatest Hits vol.2

Liebesleid, Love's Sorrows. Yes. There are difficult scenes in the book. But I do think that love triumphs, I really do. I hope my readers will see it like that, too.

"Pensees Lyrique, Op.40: No.5, Berceause," by Sibelius, played by Folke Gräsbäck
from the album Sibelius J., Sibelius Edition vol.4

This book needs lullabies, so, here is one. I hope that my readers will see what I see in the novel: that it is sometimes the adult woman who is able to comfort the little boy. But as often, it is the other way around. I think we should consider the roles society allots us with a little healthy scepticism. Sometimes, we are strong. Then, at other times we are not. And we can find support in surprising places if we open our hearts.

"A Gentle Hum," The Finn Brothers
From the album Everyone is Here

It is appropriate to add something New Zealand, I think. The Finn Brothers, of Crowded House fame, represent the kind of wonderful, quirky entrepreneurship that you find in this small country. Unpretentious and easy going, yet passionate.

And this gentle hum
We'll wake up tomorrow
With a gentle hum
This gentle hum

"Skatan sitter på kyrketornet/ Swedish Lullaby" Jan Johansson
from the album Piano

Another lullaby for my two characters, Marion and Ika. For us all who need comfort. And love.

"Nu blåser vi ut ljusen, stolta stad," Lasse Tennander
from the album Femton Sånger om Stockholm/ Fifteen Songs about Stockholm

It has to end in Sweden. I am not so sure when it comes to Marion and Ika, but for me, it must.

"This Place is a Shelter," Ólafur Arnalds
from the album Living Room Songs

The novel The Memory of Love has no epilogue. I if had, it would be the literary equivalent of this, I like to think. You will have to read the book to see how well this music matches the mood in the final chapter.

Linda Olsson and The Memory of Love links:

The author's website

Maurice on Books review
Publishers Weekly review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

The list of online "best of 2012" book lists
The list of online "best of 2012" music lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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