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May 5, 2017

Book Notes - Francesca Segal "The Awkward Age"

The Awkward Age

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Francesca Segal's novel The Awkward Age is a compelling and poignant portrait of families merging.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Segal's prose is clear and precise and the novel is so engrossing it's hard to put down."


In her own words, here is Francesca Segal's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Awkward Age:



Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by Nigel Hess
The piano is Julia’s solace and it becomes her livelihood, as she teaches North London’s ten-year-olds how not to murder a Chopin polonaise, or bash out a Smetana waltz like a music hall entertainer. At a particularly challenging point in the novel she closes herself away with this Hess concerto - the sheet music was a gift from James - and just sinks into the music, granting herself a rare moment of meditation and solitude.

"Always" by Bon Jovi
This is what James is listening to beneath a pair of been padded headphones that he stole from his son Nathan, while he prepares a barbecue celebration at the end of Nathan’s exams. I can imagine him head-banging while he mixes salad dressing, in a way that his teenager son and step-daughter would find excruciatingly embarrassing. But James is generous-spirited, big-hearted character and if he’s singing along to Bon Jovi then he’d be going for it, loud and proud.

"Cherry Oh Baby" by Eric Donaldson
This is Nathan’s tongue-in-cheek Say Anything moment, holding his iPhone aloft outside Gwen’s bedroom door when she’s refusing to get out of bed. Over and over he plays an old reggae song, filling the house with sounds of sunshine and goodwill, to get her up and to her desk to face her exams. At this point in the novel Julia and James are holding their breaths with disbelief, as their warring children are actually being nice to one another. The household is in a rare moment of harmony and the adults are starting to believe that it might, it just might, all work out alright.

"Like A Prayer" by Madonna (1989) (CH17)
Julia and James escape their maddening teenagers to a real party - drugs and drink and dark corners. In 1989 when this album came out Julia was in her late twenties and the music, and the party itself, take her back to the days when she had only herself to care for - a thrilling reminder of the pleasures of irresponsibility. She looks across the room at James and cannot believe her own good fortune that later that night, this man will come home with her.

"Kiss Me" by C. Jérôme
Watergate was breaking when Philip and Iris were together in Paris - and this song had been at the top of the French charts. It was playing as they ate tartare de boeuf and drank Malbec in Les Deux Magots, wildly in love, consumed with one another, liberated from their London selves whose union might already have begun to show fine cracks.

"Wonderful World," sung by Art Garfunkel
Gwen aches to be close to her mother again. She taught herself to love Simon and Garfunkel and now the songs have woven their way into her childhood, the soundtrack to all the moments in which she felt closest to Julia. To Gwen at fifteen, Art Garfunkel seems impossibly old - in his seventies! - and yet he’s here in London again, playing a solo concert, and her mother just cannot understand how important it is to her to go. Everything must have changed between them for Julia to be so cavalier about one of her former idols - Gwen tells herself she must face the truth: that James has come into her family and ruined everything that matters.

"The Night Before" by Lee Hazlewood p350
James’s car radio is usually tuned to WWOZ (which just happens also to be my favourite radio station) - he’d have to use TuneIn Radio or something to get it in the UK, but I think he’s a dedicated enough listener to make it work. WWOZ has the most brilliantly eclectic programming and I imagine this song coming on, chords and lyrics pregnant with precisely the sort of melancholy that they don’t need, especially as Nathan has a horrible hangover. The whole family is crammed into a car together in enforced proximity, variously wounded from horrible rows just hours earlier and James is forcing them to drive hours to get to the beach, to cool some tempers, and air them all out a bit.

Overture from Otello by Rossini
James and Julia have tickets to hear Otello in Milan in summer - alone, the two of them, a couple snatching a romantic weekend and spending time just enjoying one another, the way they have never yet managed to be. Gwen is appalled that Julia would consider disappearing and leaving her unchaperoned for a whole two days, but Julia exerts uncharacteristically strong will in withstanding her guilt trips.


Francesca Segal and The Awkward Age links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Financial Times review
Independent review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review

Guardian interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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