Liza Durbin is an otherwise normal woman: she’s an attorney at a competitive, if unimaginative firm; her best friend, Fred, lives close by and is always available for support and laughter; and though her boyfriend, Patrick, is abroad in Italy, Liza feels relatively secure in their relationship. When she’s shopping in the Nordstrom’s shoe section around Christmas, however, Liza’s mild life becomes painfully vibrant when she is possessed by the spirit of 19th century composer and pianist Franz Schubert.
Plot Overview: Possession, Obsession and Music
Although both are aware, Liza and Franz’s comprehension of the situation – two minds, one body, shared talent – is tenuous, and Liza’s mental stability takes a dive. She decides to take a leave of absence from her firm, and she and Franz devote their time to piano. Word of Liza’s playing begins to spread, and she soon finds herself under the tutelage of Juilliard piano professor Greta Pretsky.
With Pretsky’s help, and her sister, Cassie’s, PR skill, Liza is reinvented into a sexy “Nouvelle Classique” performer. Her new identity, and her slipping grasp on reality, predictably twists her relationships with Fred, her family and Patrick. Liza, however, bonds with Franz. Despite her celebrity, she decides to help him complete one of his most famous pieces, the Unfinished Symphony, even if it means saying goodbye to the weakening composer forever.
Criticisms and Compliments
The premise of Sleeping with Schubert is bizarre: the spirit of a Romantic era composer landing in the body of a thirtysomething Brooklynite lawyer? It sounds worthy of an eye roll and a pass. But for those readers willing to look past the dust jacket, Sleeping with Schubert is not typical rom-com, chick-lit fluff with clumsy women and bumbling men. Rather, Liza’s journey with Franz is surprisingly affective; the piano prodigy essentially turns her life upside down, and the psychological upheaval is shocking and, in some instances, a little sad. It’s not unlike Jennifer Weiner’s novels (arguably chick-lit, but not necessarily chick-lit lite).
Although Liza’s complicated relationships are the real focus of the novel (her relationship with her sister is a particular standout), Marson should be recognized for her ability to write about pianists and the classical music world. Personal sidenote: I have a degree in classical piano, and I can say that Marson describes the physical aspects of playing the piano – and the frequent criticisms and need for perfection – accurately. What’s admirable about Marson is that she is a visual artist and a writer, but not a musician. For her to depict the world as realistically as she does (especially the egos) makes for great entertainment.
Sleeping with Schubert, a fast, engaging story and worth a read.
- Marson, Bonnie. Sleeping with Schubert. Ballantine Books, 2005 ISBN 9780812968392