The Angel Cantata
(Framlingham, Suffolk, Full Circle Editions, 2013)
Inspired by a concert held during the Aldeburgh Festival on an American airbase in Suffolk, Jennifer Potter’s new novel shows how complex human relations and the power of place can capture and inspire the musical imagination.
Washed-up composer Michael Anders retreats to England’s south coast to write a commission for a New York music festival. Plagued by the protracted absence in America of his psychoanalyst wife, and by boyhood memories of an angel glimpsed in the Suffolk marshes, Anders finds his unease growing as he enters a landscape at once reassuringly pastoral and drowning in apocalyptic junk. Norman castles, Martello towers and decaying WW2 fortifications bear witness to England’s military past, while the airwaves hum with spy chatter picked up by the radar installations that once linked wartime Pevensey to the Suffolk of his childhood encounter with the angel.
As Anders struggles to find his narrative and musical thread, he succumbs to the competing claims of Alice, his monster landlady, and Nancy Flight, a young punk singer with dirty fingernails and a siren voice. Holding the strands together is Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, blown backwards into the future and straight into Anders’ inspired music.
‘Potter writes with pace and clarity. Her prose is economic yet evocative, and she’s good at dialogue. Alice’s awful dinner party is a particular highlight.’
‘This novel’s richness lies in the layers of local history that awake Anders’s memories’.
‘Music, the sea and the siren call of a Suffolk past are a haunting backdrop to this tale of a composer struggling to finish a commission. [Ffiona] Lewis’s illustrations are an inspired addition.’