AMALGAMATE mystique, distinctive character progression and immense knowledge of music and what you have is Time Will Tell by Donald Greig. The story is weaved around a long-lost and recently discovered 15th century
manuscript that could alter not just the face, but the entire history of music forever if proven authentic. One of the protagonists that existed in the past is portrayed and developed only through certain archives present in libraries, and as for the knowledge of music, the reader, from the very outset, might get a feeling that Greig is out to prove himself to music what Herman Melville was to whales.
It is a tad difficult to believe, and may come as a surprise to many, that Greig has forayed for the first time into writing fiction. It goes without saying that there are several autobiographical elements as he himself is a singer, music writer and lecturer of musicology. Explicably, we have Andrew Eiger, historian and lecturer of musicology, and Emma Mitchell, a concert performer, as the two main characters.
With the unfolding of the opening chapter we are introduced to the covert, obscure musician Jehan Ockeghem, who lived a few centuries ago and only comes forth in bits and pieces to the reader via the archives that Andrew explores in order to disentangle the knots of the web that besets what could probably be — if decrypted appropriately — the biggest discovery of music in recent times.
Moreover, as is the case with any successful piece of fiction, Greig has also resorted to parallel plotting, giving the readers insight into his protagonists’ somewhat erratic and unstable family and love lives, ambitions, shortcomings and eventual achievements. Where Andrew is an overly focused intellectual encumbered with problems in his nuptial life, Emma appears to be the sort who is much more adaptable to her ever-changing life despite her strong interest in academia. What develops in the wake of such a portrayal is an effective comparison between a person of a high IQ but low EQ, and vice versa. This not only stimulates the reader, but also gives rise to quite a few jovial as well as thought-provoking situations that could be deemed a form of comic relief in an otherwise highly intense and engaging plot.
Another commendable facet of the novel is Greig’s mastery over the use of language — his imagery, similes and metaphors. Simply put, all linguistic devices appear to be appropriately placed and well used according to the demand of the text.
In addition, there are occasions where the writer refers to Greek mythology and in order to make his meaning vivid, not just gives a brief account of the background of certain mythical characters, but also elucidates the meaning of their Greek and Latin nomenclature, which is itself indicative of his command over several other languages apart from English.
Speaking of English solely, Greig’s diction is, if nothing else, quite amusingly expressive. His placement of words such as “fortuitous” with words like “error” makes the text interesting. Similarly, his familiarity with the various dialects of English spoken in the US and Great Britain, and the apt manner in which he highlights it, is bound to leave a long-lasting impression on the mind of the reader: “Momentarily now meant for a moment and not in a moment. A cigarette was a fag, the trunk of the car the boot, sidewalks would become pavements … He registered the glottal on ‘Airways’, the sibilant ‘t’, so different to the softer dental ‘d’ to which he was accustomed, and the general harshness of the open vowel sounds …”
As for the setting of the events, the locale keeps changing from time to time. From a scholar researching in a quiet and peaceful library in the US to the chock-a-block, hustling and bustling Heathrow airport of London, and finally, all the way to the dimly lit — with either cheering or booing audiences — concert halls in Paris.
The only aspect of the novel which could perhaps be termed a bit taxing for the reader is the information about the conduction of concerts and the processes that are involved, heaps of jargon related to musical notations and their history. This, however, should not overshadow a story in which all the events are seamlessly woven to the point where they become inseparably intertwined and such technical details, albeit being a little too much at times, are part and parcel of it.
Time Will Tell
By Donald Greig
ThamesRiver Press, London
ISBN 978 0 85728 344 3