Book Review: The Music Teacher

The Music Teacher, by Renata Šerelytė (translated by Marija Marcinkute), is a crime fiction novel set in Lithuania. I found it a strange tale to read until the crux was explained in the final reveal. Unlike other contemporary crime fiction it lacked ongoing tension. The story is told around: numerous flashbacks to the narrator’s childhood; her vivid dreams; the characters who appear in her office demanding that the police deal with issues clearly not within their remit; her depressing social life.

Told in the first person, the protagonist is a provincial investigator dealing with the death of a teenager found drowned in a bath. It could be murder or suicide. With council elections imminent word comes from on high that the case should be closed. Young women are generally treated with contempt, beaten and sexually abused without retribution. Mothers appear more worried about what others will consider their offspring’s promiscuity and how this will affect attitudes towards them and their future prospects.

The investigator’s dreams replay scenes from her unhappy childhood interspersed with present day events. She drinks to try to forget, vomiting when stressed. While still at school she had an affair with a music teacher who, although long since abandoning her, remains the love of her life.

Poisonous plants mysteriously appear on the investigator’s desk which she assumes come from a secret admirer. Psychics offer to help with the investigation much to the chagrin of the church, recently returned to influence in Lithuania. Memories become merged with dreams, obscuring what is real from that which is imagined. As the investigation progresses the narrator shows signs of increasing neurasthenia which threatens to spiral out of control when the music teacher reappears, now a government official, possibly a spy.

There is acknowledgement that memories can be corrupted by what subsequently happens and that crimes are rarely solved as is portrayed in TV dramas where the action is intense and never ceasing:

“The thing you needed most to solve a case was time”

This is a dark portrayal of life in Lithuania coloured by the apparent mental trauma affecting the everyday life of the protagonist. The shifting narrative made it a challenge to differentiate between dream and reality. Although marketed as a crime novel its atypical composition may appeal more to fans of literary structualism. A memorable but not entirely satisfying read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Noir Press. 

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