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March 21, 2014

Book Notes - Marcel Theroux "Strange Bodies"

Strange Bodies

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.

Marcel Theroux's novel Strange Bodies is a thought-provoking treatise on identity, a literary thriller both moving and incredibly well told.

The Times wrote of the book:

"This is a superb technological fantasy, a tense thriller and a brilliantly imagined debate about the relationship between body and soul. Wonderful."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Marcel Theroux's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Strange Bodies:


There are plenty of writers who like to work in complete silence. Others have an enviable talent for losing themselves in their work no matter how noisy their surroundings. I remember that the historian Jonathan Spence liked to work at a table in the middle of a New Haven pizzeria. It was full of students getting rowdy over pitchers of beer and ordering slices to go; meanwhile Professor Spence quietly got on with his magisterial works of Chinese history.

I like to control the noise where I work and usually that means listening to music through headphones.

All the tracks listed below are ones I listened to many times while writing Strange Bodies and that I now find inseparable from the book.


1) "Girl/Boy Song" — Aphex Twin
Part pastoral landscape and part technological nightmare, it makes me think of the M25, the orbital motorway around London. Just when you think you've lost sight of the natural world under concrete and discarded rubbish, it breaks through and for one bucolic instant takes your breath away.

2) Suite Bergamasque: Clair de Lune — Isao Tomita
Simultaneously kitsch and lyrical, this is an electronic rendering of Debussy’s music. It has a weird poignance, as though something human is being immortalized, but as a machine.

3) Mahler Symphony No 5 in C Sharp Minor IV Adagietto
Explaining his preference for the ghost stories of Walter de la Mare over the novels of Tolstoy, the author Russell Hoban said "there is only the mortal tragedy to talk about; doing it in multiples or on horseback doesn't make it more important." Here Mahler compresses the mortal tragedy into 10 minutes of heartbreak.

4) "Little Person" — Jon Brion
Charlie Kauffmann has somehow smuggled notions of identity, authenticity and the nature of consciousness into big Hollywood films. He co-wrote this song with Jon Brion for the soundtrack of Synecdoche, New York.

5) "4" — Alarm will Sound, Acoustica
This is an arrangement of the electronic music of Richard D James – AKA Aphex Twin — but played by classical musicians on acoustic instruments. It’s the opposite of what Tomita does to Debussy, and feels like a more optimistic transformation.

5) "That's Life" — Frank Sinatra
An anthem of resolve and undimmed self-belief. The sense of determination is so powerful you feel it’s strong enough to carry Frank right through the afterlife and into several further incarnations. I imagine the philosopher Ray Kurzweil singing it as his consciousness is inserted into a post-human avatar.

7) "Gwely Mernans" — Alarm Will Sound
Pregnant with dread and fascinated horror, this track sums up what I wanted to achieve in the first chapter of Strange Bodies.

8) Chakrulo" — The Rustavi Choir
A version of this otherworldly example of Georgian polyphony is currently traveling through interstellar space on board Voyager 1. Extraterrestrial life forms who encounter it will need no Georgian to understand the basic thrust of the song: there's a bad guy in the valley, my friends and I are headed over there to take care of him, and some of us probably won’t come home.

9) Sonata in G Minor —CPE Bach, played by Andreas Staier
This exploits the slightly creepy aspect of the harpsichord. It might be the soundtrack to a nightmare in which you’re being devoured by robot insects.

10a) Aria — Bach Goldberg Variations, 1955
10b) Aria — Bach Goldberg Variations, 1981

Recorded a quarter of a century apart by Glenn Gould, these reflect the changes in the ageing virtuoso. The first one twinkles with light and charm; the second, played more slowly, gravely, and beautifully, seems weighed down with the intimation of death. It’s as though the passage of time has created two different artists out of one man.


Marcel Theroux and Strange Bodies links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Buffalo News review
Chicago Tribune review
Dallas Morning News review
Kirkus review
Los Angeles Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Tor.com review
Toronto Star review
Wall Street Journal review

Sunday Herald profile of the author
Telegraph profile of the author
Weekend Edition interview with the author


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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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