AN UNFINISHED SCORE
As she prepares dinner for her husband and their extended family, Suzanne hears on the radio that a jetliner has crashed and her lover is dead. Alex Elling was a renowned orchestra conductor. Suzanne is a concert violist, long unsatisfied with her marriage to a composer whose music turns emotion into thought. Now, more alone than she’s ever been, she must grieve secretly. But as complex as that effort is, it pales with the arrival of Alex’s widow, who blackmails her into completing the score for Alex’s unfinished viola concerto. As Suzanne struggles to keep her double life a secret from her husband,
As she prepares dinner for her husband and their extended family, Suzanne hears on the radio that a jetliner has crashed and her lover is dead. Alex Elling was a renowned orchestra conductor. Suzanne is a concert violist, long unsatisfied with her marriage to a composer whose music turns emotion into thought. Now, more alone than she’s ever been, she must grieve secretly. But as complex as that effort is, it pales with the arrival of Alex’s widow, who blackmails her into completing the score for Alex’s unfinished viola concerto. As Suzanne struggles to keep her double life a secret from her husband, from her best friend, and from the other members of her quartet, she is consumed by memories of a rich love affair saturated with music. Increasingly manipulated by her lover’s widow and tormented by the concerto’s many layers, Suzanne realizes she may lose everything she’s spent her life working for.
A story of love, loss, sex, class, and betrayal, this psychologically compelling novel explores the ways that artists’ lives and work interact, the nature of relationships among women as friends and competitors, and what it means to make a life of art.
Spring 2010 Okra Pick
Indie Notable Pick May 2010
“Shelf Starter” on Shelf Awareness
“You can read Elise Blackwell’s An Unfinished Score as if you were listening to a great string quartet: there’s a harmony that exists between her characters, and a complexity that allows for unexpected – intriguing – results. Blackwell faultlessly connects classical music to her exploration of loss and relationships, and she’s an excellent storyteller, combining tension and thoughtfulness. Not since Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music have I read such appealing music fiction.”—Laura Kuechenmeister Bookworks Bookstore, Albuquerque
“With An Unfinished Score, author Elise Blackwell…has climbed into the ranks of our most consistent and interesting emerging American novelists….” —The Quarterly Conversation
“Blackwell’s prose works like a symphony… the book is ultimately an orchestra of its own, beautifully composed and richly textured.” —New Pages
“An Unfinished Score is rich with musical history and theories…. Blackwell writes with flowing, poetic prose that will grab you ….The last 60 pages in particular kept me up into the wee hours of the morning!” —A Curious Reader
Suzanne believes that she loves both Ben and Alex. Is it possible to love more than one person at a time? Does that make her affair more or less excusable?
If you were in Olivia’s position, would you want to meet Suzanne? If you were Ben, would you rather know or not know about Suzanne and Alex?
Suzanne and Ben are aware of Petra’s drinking problem, and do their best to minimize its affect on Adele. However, throughout the course of the novel, they don’t encourage her to quit or seek help–at one point Suzanne offers to buy Petra a bottle of wine. Why do they enable her drinking? What would you have done in their place?
Petra, Suzanne and Ben struggle with the right course of action for Adele. Ben argues that a deaf lifestyle would be better for her, and Suzanne fears that Adele would never be fully hearing or fully deaf, but something in between. Ultimately Petra decides to go ahead with the operation; whom do you agree with?
When did you first know that Petra and Ben were having an affair? Do you believe Petra when she tells Suzanne that it was really about trying to get closer to her?
Should Suzanne tell Ben about Alex? Has the opportunity to tell him (when he revealed his affair with Petra) passed her by? The novel ends without us knowing for sure if she confesses – do you think she did?
There is a great deal of musical description in Unfinished Score. How did reading the passages that described the experience of hearing music affect you? Were you able to imagine the music?
When did you first realize that Olivia, and not Alex, had written the score? What, if anything, tipped you off?
Blackwell tells us only Suzanne’s perspective. If you could pick a different character to view the events of Unfinished Score from, which would you choose?
Did you find Suzanne easy to sympathize with? How did you feel about her behavior throughout the novel? Which character did you sympathize with the most, and why?
Did you like the ending of the book (Ben, Suzanne, and Adele in Paris)? If not, how would you have changed it?
The characters in the novel are deeply involved with classical music. Discuss your own favorite musical genre (or musician, composer, or band). Are there songs that define particular moments in your life the way that Harold in Italy defines Suzanne’s relationship with Alex?