Telegram, £10.99 Order for £9.89 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Unwritten Secrets, By Ronald Frame

Two voices in perfect harmony

Every summer, as the Edinburgh Book Festival approaches, editors reach for a state-of-Scottish-fiction piece. Almost always, the leading lights hail from the healthy tribe of urban modernists: from Irvine Welsh to James Kelman, A L Kennedy to (in his unique fashion) Ian Rankin. It seems a shame that other strands of storytelling in Scotland implicitly appear less lively or robust. That's not the case at all.

Prolific, versatile, capable of a William Trevor-like understated drama, Glaswegian Ronald Frame has published 14 works of fiction. Unwritten Secrets returns to the musical motifs, and the tangled teacher-pupil dynamics, of his Booker-longlisted The Lantern Bearers (1999). Its cleverly braided double narrative alternates the stories of two singers, bound by the time that the younger woman spent as a student of the elder.

In 2008, leading American soprano Mariel Baxter returns to Vienna and to the glacial, secretive diva, Ursule Kroll, who taught her in the 1980s. "Your voice has minted very nicely, I gather," the elderly legend icily remarks. There follows a fast-moving dual account of the singers' lives in separate cultures and ages. Their divergent careers have both fallen prey to sexual hypocrisy, industry manipulation and political pressure. With scandalous liaisons, family secrets and even (in Ursule's youth) a plot that ropes in top-level Nazis, Frame's twin intrigues even verge on the sensational.

Switching between the US and Europe, and Austria during and after its submission to the Third Reich, the novel explores two models of the musician's role in society – and suggests how closely they connect. Above all, the singers' personalities convince in their blending of a high artistic vocation with guilt at the shabby compromises required to get, and stay, ahead of rival voices.

Frame evokes the sounds that makes these burdened lives worthwhile with deft and laconic skill: from Mariel singing an aria from La Traviata on a Paris bridge in a "transfigured night", to the melancholy "sweet balm of memory" audible in Ursule's recordings of her favourite Schubert songs. His novel strikes with flair and resonance those dissonant chords of money and desire, fame and politics, that rumble behind great music and its makers. Its various mysteries unfold at a presto gallop, free of all Viennese schmaltz, in a tight-knit, allusive and sardonic style: more Alban Berg than Richard Strauss.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk