Blog Tour/Review: Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt

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I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt which tells the fascinating story of the life and loves of Alma Mahler, wife of the famous composer, Gustav Mahler.  You can read my review below.

WinFor US residents only, there’s a chance to win a paperback copy of Ecstasy.

To enter, visit the tour page here (scroll right down to the bottom for entry form).

EcstasyAbout the Book

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era.

Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time centre stage.

Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?

Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.

Format: Hardcover, eBook (400 pp.)    Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published: 10th April 2018                      Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Alma is beautiful, passionate and independent-minded.  She is fond of poetry, drama and literature, and a talented pianist.  She also shows a talent for composition and harbours an ambition to be recognised as a composer of her own music.  However, she is prevented from following her dreams by the constraints of society and the expectations placed on her of marriage and motherhood.  It’s a time when women’s talents and achievements are downplayed or, worse, characterised as ‘unfeminine’.

Alma’s admiration for composers and artists of the day is reciprocated by, amongst others, Klimt and Zemlinsky.  They are attracted by her beauty and her lively conversation.   Neither of these are suitable marriage prospects, however, and by the time she is twenty-one, Alma feels in ‘stasis’, unfulfilled and overwhelmed by an awakening sexuality that she is unable to express.   Her only solace is in music.

Enter Gustav Mahler, the renowned conductor and composer who is as entranced by Alma as she is with his musical talent.  However, when his offer of marriage comes it is accompanied by a condition that will mean Alma sacrificing her own ambitions for her husband’s work and career.  Despite the age difference, warnings from those close to her and her own misgivings about the bargain she is making, Alma accepts his offer of marriage.   Heartbreaking tragedy, illness and separation from friends and family will make Alma’s and Gustav’s marriage at times a tempestuous affair.  As Alma’s mother notes: “Love and marriage.  It’s so much more complicated than people realize.”

I really enjoyed Ecstasy, not least because, in one of those moments of serendipity, I attended a concert of Mahler’s Second Symphony a few nights before starting the book.  Described in the programme as ‘monumental’, it’s certainly epic.  With the biggest orchestra I’ve ever seen (including some offstage), a symphony chorus and two soloists, the composer throws in pretty much everything but the kitchen sink.  However, we didn’t have the five minute pause between the first and second movements that Mahler insisted on for its first performance and which Alma witnesses in the book.

There’s something I find fascinating about reading  – albeit fictionalised accounts – of the lives of women who married famous men because, in almost all cases, it strikes me they were often just as accomplished, if not more, than the men they married.  Yet, like, Alma, they were expected to channel their talents into supporting their husbands, being the perfect hostess and doting mother.   Reading Ecstasy made we wonder if great talent, like that of Gustav Mahler, can ever excuse selfishness and the often casual disregard for those around them.

This is a book rich in historical detail and I loved the way the author evoked the sights and atmosphere of turn of the century Vienna (a city I have visited and really loved) and its musicians, artists and poets.   I also found engaging Alma’s wonder at the sophistication of New York when she and Gustav travel there to pursue his career.   As the author notes in her afterword, Alma led a full life even after the events covered in the novel.  I can only agree with Mary Sharratt when she writes: ‘The deeper I delved into Alma’s story, the more complex and compelling her character revealed itself to be.’ 

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Fascinating, detailed, emotional

Try something similar…The Illumination of Ursula Flight by Anna-Marie Crowhurst (click here for my review)

Mary SharrattAbout the Author

MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.

Her novels include Summit Avenue, The Real Minera, The Vanishing Point, The Daughters of Witching Hill, Illuminations, and The Dark Lady’s Mask.

Connect with Mary

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Ecstasy Release Promo

Excerpt: Letting Go by Maria Thompson Corley

Today I am delighted to bring you an excerpt from Maria Thompson Corley’s long-distance love story, Letting Go. As well as being an author, Maria is a gifted pianist. So enjoy the excerpt and then click on the link to listen to a sample of the CD Maria has recorded to accompany the book.

LettingGoAbout the Book

Even though she lives hundreds of miles away, when Langston, who dreams of being a chef, meets Cecile, a Juilliard-trained pianist, he is sure that his history of being a sidekick, instead of a love interest, is finally over. Their connection is real and full of potential for a deeper bond but the obstacles between them turn out to be greater than distance. Can these busy, complicated people be ready for each other at the same time? Does it even matter? Before they can answer these questions, each must do battle with the ultimate demon – fear.

Told in a witty combination of standard prose, letters, emails and diary entries, Letting Go, in the tradition of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, is a long-distance love story that also examines race, religion and the difficult choices we make following our passions. From the Great White North to the streets of New York City, to the beaches of Bermuda, Letting Go is a journey of longing, betrayal, self-discovery and hope you will never forget.

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Excerpt from Letting Go

Cecile followed him into the lobby, empty except for the night clerk, who didn’t look up. Langston sat on one of the russet leather couches and Cecile sat in a matching chair at a right angle to him. He watched her gaze intently at the coffee table, or maybe the Edmonton Journal someone had left on top of it, her graceful hands folded on her lap. He let his eyes travel up her slender arms and rest on her face, wishing they hadn’t come out of the club, because wherever her mind had gone, he was clearly not invited.

Finally, Langston asked, “How long have you been in New York?”

She startled, then focused on him. “Four years.”

“Do you like it?

“Most of the time. The homeless people are kind of disturbing.”

“You get tired of the begging?”

“Well…yes, but mainly I just feel bad. I mean, I can’t give money to everybody, and some of them must really need it. I guess they all do, even if they’re addicts, because even addicts need to eat.”

Her response surprised him so much that he couldn’t think of anything to say. After an awkward pause, something came to him: “I guess helping even one person makes a difference.”

“Allegedly.” She smiled with her lips again.

“Why are you so sad?” Liquid courage.

Cecile turned her head, her eyes darting away. “Homelessness is depressing.”

“It’s more personal than that, isn’t it?”

She bit the inside of her lip. “Maybe.”

Langston cleared his throat. “Sorry,” he said. “New topic.”

“It’s okay.”

He groped for something innocuous. “So you’re here to see the family?”

Cecile chuckled. “Sort of.”

“What’s so funny?”

She sighed, gazing into the distance for a while. Then her eyes found Langston’s face, and stayed there. “I’m here because I was supposed to get married next weekend.”

The couch squeaked as he fell back against it. “Wow.”

“It’s for the best,” she said softly.

“What happened? You don’t have to answer, of course.”

She looked at her hands, then rested her eyes on him again. Her face relaxed. “It’s okay.”

She told him, speaking hesitantly at first and then more freely, about what had happened. When Langston offered his heartfelt condolences, she brightened a bit. Then they talked about her being a musician, life in New York and Toronto, and their mutual study of French, and the more they talked, the more natural her smiles became. By the time Teresa and Betsy emerged from Darling’s, they were leaning towards each other, laughing like two old friends.

Betsy yawned. “You coming, Cecile?” she said.

Cecile glanced at Langston. “Is it closed already?”

“Yeah, it’s closed already. And I’m not going anywhere else but home, so don’t bother to suggest it.”

“Yes, Queen Elizabeth,” Cecile replied, remaining seated.

Teresa grabbed Langston’s hands and leaned back.

“Okay, okay!” he protested, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. He glanced at Cecile, who was looking at him and smiling. I’m leaving in a few hours, he thought, this time with dismay.

As the four of them ascended in the parking garage elevator, Langston became aware that his chest was touching Cecile’s back. She turned in surprise, her mouth so irresistibly close to his that he couldn’t stop himself from kissing her.

For a moment, he felt oxygen reaching places he hadn’t known were there. Then she pulled away, blushing, and whispered, “Stop, okay?”

But when he followed her off the elevator, instead of getting off at the floor where Teresa had parked, she smiled and glanced at her sister, who rolled her eyes.

Cecile was leaving town in two days, and he in less than that—four and a half hours, not even enough time for a decent night’s sleep.

“I really like your poems,” she deadpanned, with a twinkle in her eye. “I hear American kids study your stuff in high school.”

“Will you write a song for one of them?”

She laughed. “Maybe.”

“Then I need your address.”

No one had a pen.

“There’s a pen in the car,” Cecile remembered, and the three of them walked towards a decade-old red Corolla. There wasn’t any paper, though, so she wrote her address and phone number very carefully on a tissue, and he did the same.

Betsy sang, “Goodbye, Langston,” climbing into the driver’s side.

He held up his hand and waved self-consciously. Had he really kissed a woman he barely knew in front of her younger sister, who looked like her attendance at the club could only have been due to a fake ID? Part of him didn’t want to look at Cecile, still standing in front of him. He’d had a few drinks, but he wasn’t drunk. Why had he done it?

He made himself meet her eyes, and he immediately understood why, not in a way that could be put into words, but in terms his body grasped perfectly.

MariaCorley2Click here to listen to Maria performing some of the beautiful music she has chosen to accompany Letting Go:

To purchase the CD, which also includes Maria reading passages from the book, click here

MariaCorleyAbout the Author

Award-winning Jamaican-born Canadian pianist, Maria Thompson Corley, gave her first public performance at the age of eight. Since then, she has appeared on radio, television and concert stages in Canada, the United States, Central America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Europe, both as a solo and as a collaborative artist.

Maria Corley received both Master’s and Doctorate degrees in piano performance from the Juilliard School, where she was a student of renowned Hungarian pianist Gyorgy Sandor. Dr. Corley was the only pianist admitted into Juilliard’s doctoral program for the period of two years. She was also chosen to represent her alma mater in a tour of Central America, where she gave performances and master classes.

Aside from being an accomplished pianist, Maria Corley is an author. She contributes regularly to Broad Street Review, an online arts magazine, and her first novel, Choices, was published by Kensington.  Letting Go is her second novel.

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