Walter Iuzzolino on Discovering The Ghost of Frédéric Chopin
Having established himself as a televisual tastemaker par excellence with his groundbreaking Walter Presents strand highlighting the best new global TV, Italian producer Walter Iuzzolino has also become a champion of world literature. The Ghost of Frédéric Chopin by Eric Faye is the third rediscovered novel in the literary iteration of Walter Presents and in this piece Walter explains exactly what it was that made him fall in love with this unique work from a singular writing talent.
I have never been a fan of full-blown fantasy or supernatural fiction, but I adore stories about ghosts. The subtle aura of mystery and the intriguing blend of nostalgia, fear and regret that permeates most fiction in this space have always been appealing to me, since I discovered Henry James’ tales and short novellas dedicated to the subject in my old days at University.
I fancy myself as a bit of a rationalist, which is why I tend to struggle with flying dragons and elves – but the ghost stories of Henry James (The Turn of the Screw, The Jolly Corner, The Aspern Papers, The Beast in the Jungle, The Altar of the Dead, The Romance of Certain Old Clothes etc.) were always irresistible for me, as they were ultimately morality tales that used ghosts as distorted mirrors of the characters’ souls: a literary device to externalise very human and very real moral conflicts and dilemmas, and to explore the subconscious longings, preoccupations and worries of the protagonists.
For years I have considered Henry James the gold standard of ghost story writing – until I discovered Eric Faye. In my opinion, Eric is a sensational writer: he creates singular, arresting, hugely entertaining stories but infuses them with a timeless sense of elegance and nostalgia, a nuanced refinement which seems to belong to another era. I discovered his writing when I came across a book of his short stories – a collection of superb, surreal, nostalgic vignettes about characters lost in their own emotional dilemmas. I was bowled over by his delicate prose and started looking up his other works.
That’s how I discovered The Ghost of Frédéric Chopin. It was – quite literally - love at first sight. They say, perhaps wisely, never judge a book by its cover – but that’s precisely what I did here, and it paid off spectacularly. I still remember when I picked up the book from the shelf in a very dull train station bookstore/tobacco shop at the Gare du Nord in Paris: I saw the title, a black and white image of Prague on the cover, read the short blurb at the back, and decided there and then that I was going to love this book. A detective/mystery story about a middle-aged widow who claims to receive visits from the ghost of Frederic Chopin – and that he is dictating beautiful music to her, all the melodies he was not able to complete in his short life... set in the irresistible, crumbling world of post-Communist Prague.
It immediately felt as though the author had written this as a personal gift to me – combining so many of my passions and interests. In reality, the book was much more powerful, poignant and compelling than I would ever have imagined. I devoured the first half in a haze, I literally do not remember time going by – and by the time I got off the train to London, I was overcome with emotion. Sometimes, you can love a book so much you are literally torn between diametrically opposed feelings: you are desperate to turn the next page and get to the end of the story – but you are also desperately sad to see fewer and fewer pages ahead of you. You literally don’t want it to end.
This is how I felt about The Ghost of Frédéric Chopin. I knew the author was playing an irresistible game of hide and seek with me, I was totally hooked by the mystery at the heart of the story, but I didn’t want to solve the puzzle... the game was too much fun, and I dreaded the moment when it would end, and when the mystery would be solved once and for all. I remember forcing myself to stop reading at regular intervals and rationing the last hundred pages so the pleasure of reading this book would last as long as possible. And then, just as beautifully as the story had started – it ended.
Almost two years have gone by since I first read The Ghost of Frédéric Chopin - but I am still under the irresistible spell of what has become one of my all-time favourite novels.
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