This novel deals with some serious and important themes we all come across at some point in our lives, some more directly than others: grief, homelessness, family relationships, love, spiritual and religious beliefs, prejudice (sexual, social…), paedophilia, young runaways…But it is not an issue novel where the characters are just mouthpieces for different points of view or an attempt at indoctrinating the reader. It is a novel where the reader gets inside the skin of a series of complex characters and experience with them strong emotions. We might share their points of view or not and the world they live in might be far from our daily existence but the author manages to get us completely enthralled by the events life keeps throwing at the protagonists and we can’t help but feel for them.
Raphael experiences the loss of his teenage son to a cruel illness, and full of guilt for not being able to reassure him about the afterlife, he lets his life sink, falling into depression and losing his partner, his job and his voice in the company he created, and his earthly possessions. He meets a boy slightly older than his son at the cemetery, Brian, who is homeless like him and whose life is a disaster waiting to happen. Through him, he meets Michael, a children’s social worker. There is hope and Raphael works hard to rebuild his life and create a new family but there are also many difficulties on the way, and the happy moments are interspersed with disappointments and drawbacks. The lives of all the characters in the story are touched by their interactions with each other, and in this drama, nobody is truly evil (with the exception of one of Brian’s johns) and most are trying to do their best. The third person narration that follows the different characters and allows the reader to see things from their point of view works well; it avoids becoming too intrusive whilst offering insight into the motivations and emotions of the main players.
I was very intrigued by the character of Angela, the nurse, who plays the part of the fairy godmother/guardian angel, always appearing at the most difficult moments, with vital information, support and advice. I’d be intrigued to know what other readers thought about her.
The title of the novel comes from Raphael’s job as an architect, and the impact his experience of homelessness has on his creativity and his design of the next big project for the city, the opera house, that serves as backdrop to the action. Although I don’t know how well the practicalities of the design of the opera house in the novel would work, I admit to loving the concept and the idea.
As a word of warning, there are some erotic scenes (not the most explicit I’ve read by far, and fairly brief, one with violence towards a minor) and emotions ride high. I’d advice readers to have tissues at hand.
If you like novels about relationships that explore serious issues, with complex characters you’ll get to care about, I recommend it. This is the third novel I’ve read by Hans Hirschi and it won’t be the last one.