Cover image for Disturbance of the inner ear
Disturbance of the inner ear
Hackett, Joyce.
Personal Author:
First Carroll and Graf edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf, 2002.
Physical Description:
277 pages ; 24 cm
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Dark, intense, and often very funny, this critically lauded debut novel tells a story of inherited trauma healed by erotic love in the lives of two unlikely soul mates: Isabel, a former cello prodigy and daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and Giulio, an Italian gigolo. With its hypnotic internal logic, Disturbance of the Inner Ear conjures a ravaged landscape in which anything is possible. Hackett's musical language comes alive in a pitch-perfect first-person narrative that is evasive yet intimate, and utterly unforgettable. Stylistically daring and psychologically acute, this dazzling debut marks the arrival of an exciting new novelist.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Isabel Masurovsky was a child prodigy on the cello but hasn't played in years. When the last person who knew her past dies in their hotel room, Isabel finds herself alone in Italy with no money, no passport, and an odd sense of freedom. She takes a job teaching Clayton Pettyward, the musically inept son of a miserable millionaire who possesses an old, priceless cello called the Savant. Isabel is obsessed with the Savant yet fights her need to play again. She strikes up a strange but beneficial relationship with a surgical resident named Giulio, who moonlights as a gigolo. Giulio, with his intensity and seductive ways, encourages Isabel to accept her past and to embrace her need to play the cello again. In return, Isabel challenges Giulio to stop pretending and to begin to feel real emotion for a woman. All Hackett's characters are in emotional pain, and how they cope with the pain is the basis for this first-person narrative. This is a strong first novel infused with the language of music. --Carolyn Kubisz

Publisher's Weekly Review

Defiantly out of the ordinary and meticulously composed, this intensely inward-focused novel narrates the wanderings of Isabel Masurovsky, a former child prodigy cellist adrift in Italy. Isabel's father, Yuri, is a survivor of Theresienstadt, the Nazi concentration camp for high-level prisoners. In Brooklyn after the war, he pressures his gifted daughter to perform. Her Carnegie debut at 14 is a smashing success, but soon afterward her parents are killed in an accident, and she gives up the cello. Ten years later, she appears in Milan, beside the dead body of Signor Perso, the old man who has been her teacher, lover and caretaker since her parents' death. Deprived of the one person who knows her past, she stumbles into the Milan winter, taking a job as viola teacher for 16-year-old Clayton Pettyward, the withdrawn son of a rich American, who hums incessantly and names all his tropical fish after Isabel. She also crosses paths with Giulio, a plastic surgeon and gigolo who is as detached in his own way as she is in hers, and they embark on a curious love affair. Hackett's dense, staggered narration skips from present to past and back again, building up an unusual yet wholly credible portrait of Isabel, who religiously practices self-denial until a tragic accident makes her realize how destructive her behavior has become. The novel concludes with her visit to Theresienstadt, where she is determined to burn a valuable cello belonging to Clayton's father. Incisively written and often inspired, this keenly imagined novel earns admittance to a small collection of similarly uncompromising, stylistically distinctive novels, among them the works of Jean Rhys and Jane Bowles. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

With the death of her cello teacher, Signor Perso, Isabel Masurovsky is overcome with memories of her parents, who perished in a car crash on the night of her Carnegie Hall debut. A child prodigy, Isabel was managed by her father, Yuri, a Holocaust survivor and an acclaimed pianist in his own right. Now living in Italy and teaching cello to a reluctant young student, Isabel meets a surgeon named Giulio, who is also a male prostitute. Though an unlikely couple, they help each other come to terms with their individual problems. Isabel's quest to make peace with her past and to start living in the present culminates in Terezin, formerly in Czechoslovakia, where she finds the remains of the Nazi camp, Theresienstadt. Here, Yuri played piano in the prisoner orchestra which saved his life. With a real flair for language, first novelist Hackett tells a fascinating story that makes the reader eager to hear the music that Isabel describes. For larger fiction collections in public and academic libraries.-Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.