The acclaimed author of Vinegar Hill and Midnight Champagne returns with a compelling tale of two summer romances, separated in time by over one hundred and fifty years.
At forty-two, Jeanette Hochmann—newly divorced from her husband of more than a decade—struggles to reassemble her life with her young daughter. Lately, the world seems bereft of the passion that’s always inspired and sustained her, first as a child prodigy at the piano, later as a teacher and writer of fiction. Now, she can’t seem to get traction on her latest book, a novel based on the forty-year relationship between nineteenth-century German pianist Clara Schumann and her husband’s handsome young protégé, the composer Johannes Brahms.
Through a chance encounter, Jeanette meets a native of Leipzig, Clara’s birthplace—a mysterious entrepreneur whose casual help with translations of diaries and letters blooms into something more. There are things about men and women, he insists, that do not change. The two embark on a whirlwind emotional journey that leads Jeanette to a similar crossroads faced by Clara Schumann—as a mother, as an artist—well over a century before.
Beautifully designed, enhanced with photographs, sketches and notes from both present and past, A. Manette Ansay’s original blend of fiction and historical fact captures the timeless nature of love and friendship between women and men.
I enjoyed how Good Things I Wish You combined a historical story with a contemporary one. The reader is first introduced to Jeanette, who is a modern-day author setting out on the dating scene after having been divorced. The novel then began to transition back and forth between Jeanette's story and that of pianist and composer Clara Schumann in the nineteenth-century.
The relationship between Clara and Johannes Brahms was a forbidden one. I believe that Ansay captured the interesting relationship quite well. Johannes offerings to Clara were significant, even though their relationship could not move beyond friendship while Clara's husband was alive. Johannes offered Clara the freedom that she needed in order to pursue her career. I wondered near the end of the novel whether Johannes would come to resent Clara, after having given so much for so long.
Jeanette's relationship with Hart was strange to me and I never felt the connection between them. Hart was weird to me - Ansay provided bits of biographical information about him, but I didn't feel enough emotion from him in order for me to connect with him as a character. I believe that Hart's daughter Friederike provided a bond between Hart and Jeanette that may not have existed had Friederike not been there. Her music and her connections in Leipzig gave Jeanette the opportunity for additional research on Clara and Brahms, and provided the excuse for a shared trip for Hart and Jeanette. In Friederike's absence, I wonder whether Hart and Jeanette would have connected in Germany at all.
Though I enjoyed both Jeanette's story and that of Clara, I did not find enough similarities between the two in order to make the novel flow back and forth seamlessly. Both women had a similar drive for their careers, and both were impacted greatly by the mental illness of their spouse. Where the women showed such great contrast was in the relationship with their children. Jeanette seemed to have great concern and focus for Heidi's well-being, while Clara seemed to surrender her children to Johannes while she toured for her career. There were parallels between these two women, but not enough for me to not wonder whether their stories belonged together in the same book.
In the end, I enjoyed Good Things I Wish You. It was a fast read and I thought the historical research extremely well done. I like both Jeanette and Clara's stories - the historical fiction lover in me liked Clara's a bit more. Even though I sometimes struggled to see how the two women related to each other, I found the novel pleasant overall.
Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in this tour.