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Carole Strachan ran the marketing department at Welsh National Opera before becoming executive director of contemporary opera company Music Theatre Wales. Her musical background guarantees a higher than average composer cast-list in The Truth in Masquerade compared with the average run of novels displaying classical music credentials: from Verdi, Puccini and Tchaikovsky to Mozart, Handel and a string of British composers. An imagined production of Britten’s Turn of the Screw provides the main framework – perhaps more than the overriding narrative of the novel might demand. Britten aficionados will doubtless lap it all up, though, enjoying the counterpoint which a start-to-finish account of a production of the opera gives to the tale of how one half of the (fractured) love interest, Anna Maxwell, tackles the role of Governess in Screw while struggling to understand why her marriage to Edwyn (an Oxford historian) has come so abruptly to an end. And what of another ‘ex’ of the past?

Edwyn himself is involved in his own private Who Do You Think You Are? – far too private for the good of his marriage, it transpires. Devotees of the tv series will be well aware of how some subjects find the whole process a touch hard to handle. Edwyn’s extensive researches have a similar effect. So, what with his endeavours and the novel’s exhaustive look at the Turn of the Screw from many an angle, on offer here (you’re way ahead of me) is a parallel digging back into the past, with ghosts being raised at will. Ghosts that must be laid whatever the cost. There’s also a bit-more-than-a-bit-part for Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd.

All in all, this is a ‘relationships novel’ of not inconsiderable depth and perception. It is a well-crafted, well-controlled tale, featuring believable characters and situations, although suffering here and there from dialogue that sounds somewhat unnaturally framed. Often I felt I was reading the stuffin quotes rather than hearing it. Still, there is much else to enjoy.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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