Death of a Prima Donna
by Brina Svit
(Translation by Peter Constantine)
Publisher; The Harvill Press/London/2005
Plot; Lea Kralj, who is known to her closest friends as Lejka, is a Slovenian born prima donna who is beautiful and passionate. But, at the height of her career, Lea Kralj suddenly dies. A death shrouded in as much drama and mystery as one of the stage heroines whose roles she sang.
The narrator, a young Frenchman who met Lea Kralj in curious circumstances, is the only person who can tell of her final days, spent in her old bedroom in her old forth floor apartment in Ljubljana, tended to by her controlling and unemotional Mother.
My Thoughts; I thought this story was confused and disappointing.
Death of a Prima Donna is a story narrated by a young man, whom we never know the name of, who has been asked to do an interview on the subject of Lea Kralj for a Ljubljana Magazine, which is in search for the "Ljubljana Woman of the Century". The format of the story is that this young man is writing in answer of the questions the magazine has asked.
I found this format to be a little far fetched and, at times, aggravating. The reader is constantly bombarded with answers to unknown questions and the answers given make it unbelievable. This young man is being asked to talk about Lea Kralj and whether she is worthy of the "Woman of the Century" title and he answers with stories of his own sexual exploits.
Another aspect of this novel which adds to the unbelievable is the detail with which the narrator describes events he was not present for. The conversation between Kralj and the narrator is limited and at times constrained to the point of the narrator guessing the feelings of Kralj, in other words, he has to read between the lines of their conversations. Yet, when describing things that have happened to Kralj, things he was never a part of and could not possibly know about, he goes into the finest of detail. One such example is the first time that Kralj meets Julijan Remeck. The narrator was not present at this meeting yet he goes into such detail as, "the sky in the west grew increasingly purple, pink and yellow, thought it was still early, and the trees lay like dark patterns against it." (pg. 123)
"I will tell you about that later" is a line that I do not like to read at the best of times, but to have it said on most pages is something that does irritate me. There is alot of this in Death of a Prima Donna and it goes get to a point where you want to scream at the book, "tell me now, or leave it till later!" I think Svit is using this as a technique to try and build suspense, and used once or twice it can be effective, but frankly, the overuse of the words just annoyed me.
I think the thing that disappointed me the most was the lack of Kralj's actual story. Most of this book was about the narrator; what he thought, what he did, what he wanted. I wanted to hear about Kralj. I wanted to hear about her tense relationship with her mother. I wanted to know more about her life and her eccentricities, such as the head scarf.
The format that Svit has used to tell this story is a very limiting one and I think that has had a detrimental impact on what could have been a very interesting story.
What Svit has done well is evoke sympathy. You cannot help but feel for this prima donna being drawn in by her want of love and having no one to catch her before she falls.
I am not going to say, "do not read this book" because I am sure there is an audience out there who would enjoy it. But, if a friend was to ask me if they should read this book or another, I would pick the other.
This book will fulfil Challenge 9 of the Take Another Chance Challenge once it is teamed with a review of Death of a Hussy, for books with titles containing the same word.