Literary Prose in C Minor

March 14, 2010

A soprano and pianist, Barbara Rathbone is a classical musician with a unique and interesting gift — I’ll let Barbara explain. And although her gift may be difficult for others to grasp (I know I can’t), one thing is abudantly clear: With a deliciously Dickensian name like Rathbone, it’s not surprising that she has fingered the keys of language and written a novel, which is currently in search of a publisher, called The Conductor’s Wife. It’s an exploration of the inner experience of a musician and synaesthete. “Syna-what?” Read on…

BMRWho are you?

I am a musician — a classical singer and pianist who writes. I write because there is so much music in words.

What was the last book you read? How did you like it?

The Order of Things by Michel Foucault. It’s dense, thought-provoking and fabulous.

We often praise people for their perspective. But in your case, you really do have a unique perspective on the world. Can you explain synesthesia for our readers here at Between the Lines and describe how it affects your experience?

Synaesthesia is simply an overlapping of the senses. It is not that uncommon and there appears to be a link to creativity. Some synaesthetes “see” letters and numbers in three-dimensional space, some even taste the flavours of different words or sounds. Some see musical notation and units of time in three-dimensional space and/or in colour. In my case, I “see” music in coloured patterns; words, letters, musical keys have a particular colour and I also “see” units of time in colour and three-dimensional space. My synaesthesia is known as cognitive grapheme synaesthesia. For me, it adds a sensual intensity to my experience of the world around me, particularly an added depth to my experience of music and the sounds of words and language. Sometimes it is distracting but only in a very pleasant sense! It is natural to me but when I describe it to some people it seems to them entirely alien.

Of course, I’m dying to know which of your favorite novels evoke the most colorful experiences.

All words provide me with colour but I have always responded to poetry in particular. I like language to “paint” pictures and soundscapes which lift one emotionally. I like dark, rich-coloured words and novels with a full range of human experience; the types of books that stir the soul. I loved the Brontës as a teenager, particularly Emily and Wuthering Heights of course. I also love prose poetry and epic poetry such as Dante, Byron and Eliot. Russian and French literature have always had a strong appeal. Unsurprisingly, in this respect both Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina affected me profoundly. There is a theme there! One of my favourite writers ever is Milan Kundera, whom I have read in English and French but not in Czech! I love his perspective — searching, philosophical, full of aphoristic wit. A short novel I have always adored is Utz by Bruce Chatwin — Prague set, skillfully observed and very alluring, like the Meissen figurines the eponymous hero collects.

If literature were music, whose body of work is Beethoven’s
Symphony No. 9?

That would have to come under the banner of the romantics – Byron, Schiller (he wrote the “Ode to Joy,” so why not?!) but also later writers/thinkers and poets in that vein — Walt Whitman perhaps. It brings us big ideas and humanism.

What are three books you wish everyone would read? Why?

Plato — The Republic. All life, all ideas — sophistry and faith in the work of humanity to create of itself. 

Milton — Paradise Lost. For sort of similar reasons. Great story too!

T.S Eliot — The Wasteland. Everything you would expect from a master craftsman of words. A voyage into the shape, strength and caprice of the English language.

Do you have any quirks, pet peeves, or superstitions when it comes to reading?

I am not good at reading when I am writing myself — so, apart from poetry, I tend to avoid it. I will always listen to music when I write and that way the words fall before me like ripened fruit.

What novel should replace the Gideon’s Bible in hotel rooms worldwide? Explain.

Anna Karenina, a great long, satisfying slice of all life. I wish I could read it in Russian!