Daily Archives: June 4, 2017

Book Report: “All the Beloved Ghosts” By Alison Macleod


In 1920s Nova Scotia, as winter begins to thaw, a woman emerges from mourning and wears a new coat to a dance that will change everything. A teenager searches for his lover on a charged summer evening in 2011, as around him London erupts in anger. A cardiac specialist lingers on the cusp of consciousness as he awaits a new heart—and is transported to an attic room half a century ago. In an ancient Yorkshire churchyard, the author visits Sylvia Plath’s grave and makes an unexpected connection across time. On a trip to Brighton, reluctant jihadists face the ultimate spiritual test. And at Charleston, Angelica Garnett, child of the Bloomsbury Group, is overcome by the past, all the beloved ghosts that spring to life before her eyes.

Precise, playful and evocative, these exquisitely crafted stories explore memory, the media and mortality, unfolding at the line between reality and fiction. Written with vigorous intelligence and delicate insight, this collection captures the surprising joys, small tragedies and profound truths of existence.


“All the Beloved Ghosts” By Alison Macleod requires all of your attention.  But down that phone, put off that music and get settled into bed for a proper read.  Macleod challenges the reader to split threads and view a snapshot that tethers reality with fragments of fiction.

One of the most powerful stories in the novel entitled ‘Dreaming Diana:  Twelve Frame’s’ brings all kinds of giddiness.  The short story speaks to frames of time that the writer captures her paralleled romantic relationships to that of Diana and Charles.  From their early years of courting, to their marital demise and eventual death; the writer paints a portrait that demonstrates the cracks in the paint within her own marriage.

‘Above them, of time, I want to press rewind again, to spool the clock back.  I want a maid, bearing a stack of fresh sheets, to hit the ‘down’ button, stumble into their world mid-descent and delay them with her apologies.  I want her to bother Diana for a smile, a word, an autograph.  I want her to alter the sequence.  On they go.’

The writer speaks to her confusion, questioning and worry about her own relationship and reflects on it with the help of photographs of Diana in the media.  These parallels are a wonderful window into the writer’s voice and the complexities of her situation.

Stitching fiction into the texture of a collection of narratives that are fueled in truth makes for not only an interesting read but a reminder into our own existence.  How many parallels can you find within your own life to what is happening currently in the media, friends and family?  Macleod provides the literature that makes for an interesting aperitif tool towards reflection.



Book Report: “Men Without Women” By Haruki Murakami

A dazzling new collection of short stories–the first major new work of fiction from the beloved, internationally acclaimed, Haruki Murakami since his #1 best-selling Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all.

Marked by the same wry humor that has defined his entire body of work, in this collection Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic.


It’s very rare that you get transported to a place and time that is so authentic that you feel like you never want to leave when you are in the confines of a book.  Murakami is the Master when it comes to introducing the reader to a space and time that is completely foreign to western readers but yet shares the sensibilities that we all can relate to.  “Men Without Women” by Haruki Murakami will not disappoint when it comes to capturing these nods.

‘The image of her in another man’s arms as stuck in my mind, as real as life.  As if there was a demon with nowhere else to go clinging to a corner of the ceiling, eyes fastened on me.  After my wife’s death, I expected the demon would disappear if I just waited long enough.  But it didn’t.  Instead its presence grew even stronger.  I had to get rid of it.  To do that I had to let go of my rage.’

Introspectiveness and sensitivity is what Murakami articulates with the finiteness of the best calligraphy pen.  His words are chosen with the detail of a farmer’s market fiend and with intent that evokes an emotional response.  “Men Without Women” By Haruki Murakami reads like a painting.  It is brimming with textures and angles that will encourage reflection that perhaps may interrupt your reading flow.  It is a well deserved purchase and a transformative read.



Review: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ (Friday, June 2, 2017)


Sir Andrew Davis begins our musical exploration of the 1930s with three exceptional works. Hindemith’s Concert Music for Brass and Strings is a stunning showpiece for orchestra without the woodwinds. The amazing sonorities of these two sections playing against and with each other are without comparison anywhere in the orchestral repertoire. Our own Jonathan Crow is the featured soloist in Berg’s beautiful Violin Concerto—a rich, lushly Romantic work tinged with elegiac sensibilities. Berg’s use of the contemporary language his teacher Schoenberg created is highly personal, a singular voice amidst the experimentation and angularity of this musically tempestuous decade. Alexander Dobson, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and the Huddersfield Choral Society join the Orchestra for Walton’s exhilarating oratorio Belshazzar’s Feast. This exciting work might be his masterpiece. It is dramatic, lyrical, highly original, and completely compelling.

Peter Oundjian

Music Director

Sir William Walton’s spectacular biblical oratorio—tracing the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from captivity in Babylon and powered by a 200-voice mass choir—is the climax of a program conducted by TSO Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis that includes the eloquent violin concerto that Alban Berg composed in tribute to a young woman who had died at eighteen.

Babylon was a great city,

Her merchandise was of gold and silver,

Of precious stones, of pearls, of fine linen,

Of purple, silk, and scarlet,

All manner vessels of ivory,

All manner vessels of most precious wood,

Of brass, iron, and marble,

Cinnamon, odours, and ointments,

Of frankincense, wine, and oil,

Fine flour, wheat, and beasts,

Sheep, horses, chariots, slaves,

And the souls of men.

Walton came to attention through impudent, jazz-inflected scores such as the spoken-and played “entertainment” Façade (1922), and cemented his reputation as a bright light of music with the warm, haunting Viola Concerto (1929). He made further inroads into conservative domains (but not through conservative means) by creating an example of that long-time British favourite, the choral work with orchestra.

Belshazzar’s Feast was commissioned by the BBC, to be premièred at the 1931 Leeds Triennial Festival. Author Osbert Sitwell came up with the Old Testament story of the “handwriting on the wall” as the subject. Using the King James edition of the Bible, he drew upon the books of Daniel, Isaiah, Revelation, and the Psalms. The première audience initially registered shock at the fierceness expressed by both text and music, but by the end of the performance, the score’s sheer visceral impact swept them to their feet.

After the stern opening proclamation, the baritone soloist and chorus lament the oppressed state of the Hebrew slaves in Babylon. The baritone sings an unaccompanied recitative enumerating Babylon’s vast riches and its profound evils. The vibrant depiction of the feast proper makes prominent use of the jagged rhythmic syncopations of early jazz. The chorus, taking the viewpoint of the Hebrews, describes how Belshazzar, king of Babylon, commits blasphemy by having his slaves bring forth the golden drinking vessels that his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had stolen from the sacred Hebrew temples in Jerusalem, at the same time as he had enslaved the population. Belshazzar and his courtiers imbibe from them, sealing their doom in the eyes of God. Belshazzar (baritone soloist) calls for praises to be sung to his people’s gods. The chorus shifts to the role of Babylonians, singing ecstatic odes to their deities.

At the height of the festivities, the God of the Hebrews intervenes. He sends forth a phantom hand to inscribe the fate of Belshazzar and his people on the wall of the palace. The scene is climaxed by the chorus’s electrifying shout of “Slain!” as Belshazzar and his kingdom are cast down. The Hebrews celebrate their freedom in a jubilant hymn of praise.


‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ as performed by The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is not for the faint of heart.  Its rich diversity, thunderous punctuated exclamation points and heightened moments of deep meditation encircle the piece.  As we inhaled its grand stature – it was hard to sit still throughout the performance.  The mood deliberately made us fidget and yet encouraged us to lean into the discomfort.

TSO Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis challenged the violin concerto beautifully and exhaustingly conducted the score with tireless intent, as a vulnerable audience member there were notes that I felt required a dab sweat from my brow.

The orchestra was mesmerizing and were working as a cohesive whole it is was hard not to marvel at the complexity of ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ as sung by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Huddersfield Choral Society but to feel it’s foreboding and almost guttural tones.  Forget a rock concert in an arena – if you are looking for a heart smacking experience, ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ as performed by The Toronto Symphony Orchestra needs to be your new religion.

The fine stitching in of the orchestra and the choirs was quite a feat to encounter.  Sir Andrew Davis is a genius and a poet.  His delicateness with bringing the piece to life with such respect and at the same time conjuring a mood, space, time and a myriad of emotions  – one cannot help but be moved.  Your dollars are well spent when bearing witness to Davis’ masterpiece.  You will also be leaving a slightly more enlightened person than when you arrived.

Take time out of your work, school and life schedule to immerse yourself in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  From a place of meditation and healing – experiencing ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ is not only transformative but could be helpful in creating a space in your mind and body for some deep healing on the orchestra’s time.