A second spot appears at stage left and, as the light reveals it, I raise my arm towards my theremin as if in a distant embrace.The audience roars; they stamp, they hoot, they call like cats, like cattle, like owls, like mad things. This is what they’ve come to hear, to see: this instrument, this tangle of wire I have played for so long, made for me all those years ago, not a museum piece but a working musical instrument, that has seen more and lived longer that any of them; nearly as old as me, it is my darling, and I play it like a lover I cannot touch.
Lena Gaunt lives the quiet like which may seem to befit an octogenarian. She enjoys a morning swim in the sea, and lives simply in her nearby cottage. But once she was a famous musician, and a local festival has asked her to make an appearance with her instrument – a theremin. She can’t resist the chance to perform once more. Afterwards, she is contacted by a film maker who wants to make a documentary about her remarkable life. At first resistant, Lena finds herself revisiting the highs and lows of her life from a childhood in Malacca and boarding school in the Perth hills, to an international career as a musician. But there are some parts of her life that may be too painful to share with the film maker.
The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt is a fictional autobiography told by the ageing woman as she nears the end of her life. Her recollection is interspersed with events from her current life, and her meetings with Mo, the documentary maker. As such the reader gets to know both the events which shape her, and the woman she subsequently becomes, simultaneously.
Lena’s life is intriguing and her voice, too, is inviting, creating a sense of intimacy. The instrument at the centre of Lena’s life – the theremin – lends a feeling of otherness which echoes Lena’s individuality.
A fabulous read.
The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, by Tracy Farr
Fremantle Press, 2013
Available from good bookstores and online.