Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Mozart touches on many of the events and personalities of the Reagan revolution and its aftermath, but it is a farce, not a chronicle or a roman a clef, so I have freely distorted reality for my purposes. Thus real historical figures engage in entirely fictional actions; business, legal, medical and geographical information is fabricated and/or distorted, and is not presented as a fictionalised or disguised account of the truth.
-A Note to the Reader, Robert Howse

When Saul Bellow's novel Ravelstein came out there was not only no doubt that it was a roman a clef but folk had little trouble discerning who many of the characters were, not least Ravelstein himself, the late Allan Bloom. Comes Robert Howse to tread what seems to be some of the same ground -- including a protagonist who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Bellow -- but, notwithstanding the author's obligatory disclaimer that all is fiction, I'm not sure how much of this we're supposed to connect to reality and how much is supposed to stand on its own. Matters are hardly helped by the fact that Mr. Rowse was a student of both Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom. The book is diverting enough in its own right, but leaves a gnawing feeling that in-jokes are slipping by we unwashed.

The story takes Arthur Rizler, a Toronto-born novelist who enjoyed considerable success at mid-century, to post-communist Prague, where he is to deliver a lecture on Mozart. Accompanying him is his fourth wife, Maya, who is half his age and far more invested in the remains of his renown than he seems to be. Hot on their heels are Midge Svobodnik, Maya's mother who is bent on her daughter ditching Rizler so she can get on with having children, and Jeremy Stuart -- "a freelance agent of global capitalism and democracy, a citizen of the world, and much in demand as a speechwriter, an adviser, a behind-the-scenes-man, transnational troubleshooter" -- who is romantically obsessed with Maya. As the setting and the description of Jeremy suggest, one of Mr. Howse's main topics here is the triumphalist moment at the end of the Cold War when neoconservatism was in its first blush of glory and there was an easy buck to be made off of both explaining and implementing its ideas. He casts a somewhat dubious eye on the phenomenon of globalization and the notion of the End of History, referring wittily to CNN as "Fukuyama Vision" and saying of Maya:
Whatever wavering in her feelings about Rizler as a husband, she had never doubted for a moment that he was one of the few living human figures who had any capacity to make the human condition more tolerable, to combat the forces of darkness. Rizler was still, and would always be her world historical mission.
That's a nice dig at the notion of the intellectual as Hegelian superhero, never mind the hero's latest trophy.

Mr. Howse calls his book a farce, though it seems all too probable, especially when it ends with an event that has a distinct parallel in reality. Whatever the reader ends up classing it in, the book is dryly funny and an enjoyable read.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

Political Fiction
Robert Howse Links:

    -HOMEPAGE: Robert L. Howse, Professor of Law (University of Michigan Law School)
    -FACULTY BIO: Robert L. Howse, Alene and Allan F. Smith Professor of Law
    -BOOK SITE: Mozart: A Novel
    -ESSAY: Kojève’s Latin Empire (Robert Howse, August-September 2004, Policy Review)
    -ESSAY: The WTO on Trial (Susan Esserman and Robert Howse, January/February 2003, Foreign Affairs)
    -ESSAY: Protecting Human Rights in a Global Economy: Challenges for the World Trade Organization (Robert Howse and Makau Mutua, 2000, Rights & Democracy)
    -REVIEW: of Anti-Americanism by Jean-Francois Revel (Robert Howse, Policy Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Robert Howse (Policy Review)
    -REVIEW: of Mozart (Book Pleasures)

Book-related and General Links: