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Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt: A Book Review

Ecstasy
Author: Mary Sharratt
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: April 10, 2018
Pages: 405
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era.

     Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time the center stage. 

     Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand-new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?

     Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, author, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.

      My Review: Ecstasy tells the story of Gustav Mahler’s wife, Alma. Even though Alma is slowly receiving her due as a composer, she is mostly known for her marriages and romances with famous men such as Gustav Klimt, Alexander Zemlinsky, Walter Gropius, Franz Werfel and Oskar Kokoschka. In this novel, Alma Mahler is a socialite who yearns to be a composer. She is courted by many men. Eventually, she falls in love with and marries Gustav Mahler. However, Gustav Mahler demands her to give up her dream of becoming a composer. Alma is torn between duty to her husband and her own ambition.

    Alma Mahler was a hard character to connect to. While the novel tried to state that Alma was passionate in her music, it seemed that music was not her priority as were the many romances that she experienced before she married Gustav Mahler. She was very flighty, immature, and selfish. She seemed interested more in jumping from one man to another so quickly before you could snap your fingers than she was about her career and dreams. Therefore, I did not buy the author’s statement about her being a dedicated artist.

   The novel did get more interesting, and I found Alma more relatable by the time she married Gustav Mahler. Gustav Mahler tells her that she can only marry her on the condition that she gives up pursuing her dreams as a musician and composer. This is because there could only be one composer in the family. Because Alma loves him, she agrees, contemplating a peaceful and happy life with Gustav. In this marriage, Alma really tries to become her own woman. She tries to be a loving and devoted wife to Gustav while having the desire to fulfill her own dreams. The marriage between Gustav and Alma was very toxic. Gustav did not seem to love Alma. He was very controlling, narcissistic, and cold. I could understand and empathize with Alma why she cheated on him during her marriage. Thus, Alma was a very vulnerable character who strived to find personal happiness.

  Overall, this novel did not do justice to Alma as portraying her as a female composer in a man’s world. Rather, it pays more attention to Alma’s love life than her accomplishments. I thought that most of the characters were flat and lacking in depth. There were also many scenes that made for uncomfortable reading. Despite these flaws, the novel was very well-written and heavily researched. This novel is perfect for fans of Rodin’s Lover, Ophelia’s Muse, and Madame Picasso. Still, I’ll be on a lookout for a novel in which Alma truly shines and her talent is finally given her due.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


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