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January 13, 2012

Book Notes - Daniel O'Malley "The Rook"

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

MTV Geek compared Daniel O'Malley's debut novel The Rook to "Downtown Abbey with superpowers," which captured my own feelings almost perfectly. This supernatural urban fantasy is clever, imaginative, and one of the most fun books I have read since Ernest Cline's Ready Player One.

At TIME, Lev Grossman wrote of the book:

"Utterly convincing and engrossing---totally thought-through and frequently hilarious. The writing is confident and fully fledged. Even this aging, jaded, attention-deficit-disordered critic was blown away."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Daniel O'Malley's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, The Rook:

I'm not one of those writers who has music in the background while he writes. I'm just too easily distracted. And I don't listen to music when I'm out walking, because I read when I walk, and I need to be able to hear the cars before they hit me (as a sidenote, the only time I fell down a manhole while walking, I was not reading at the time.) Still, there's a bunch of tunes that lend themselves to some scenes in The Rook. And if you're wondering did I listen to this music as I acted out the scenes in the privacy of my house, the answer is ‘maybe.' Here's my soundtrack.

The Rook shifts genres at a fairly rapid clip, so too does this playlist.

1. "Let Go" by Frou Frou

I first stumbled upon this gem at a dance show. Well, all right, I'll be honest, it was a burlesque show. But it was a burlesque show done with the sharpest sense of humour I've seen on stage, and I watched it with a 76-year-old lady sitting next to me. And during this song, no one took anything off. It speaks to me of a woman getting hit by a revelation. From this moment on, the world will be a drastically different place, and depending on how you approach it, you're either going to shatter, or be changed.

2. "Mi ricordo (Version 1)" by J. Ralph

When I first heard this, I was on the red-eye flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia. I looked out the window, and saw a vast thunderstorm. A huge wall of dark clouds with flashes inside, looming right beside us. "Mi ricordo (Version 1)", with its overtones of solemnity, and the references to memory and records is ideal for sitting in a hotel room, reading letters written to you by the person you used to be. (Just as it is for sitting in a shuddering airliner, wondering if nature has you in its crosshairs.)

3. "The Phasmid" from the soundtrack to Master And Commander: The Far Side of the World

God, this music is filled with anticipation and fear and menace, but it's elegant, too. Perfect for a party of senior civil servants to sit in a darkened room, and calmly observe an interrogation.

4. ‘Last Day on Earth" by Kate Miller-Heidke

The melancholy of entering a house whose owner is gone away forever. Her possessions are there, as if she just stepped out. You touch a book that she left on a table, see the scribbles of her notepad by the phone. And you are wearing her body. But it's okay, because she knew this would happen, and she's gotten things ready for you.

5. "Breakaway" by Big Pig

This is a big song, with majestic, almost reverent overtones. The kind of thing that you want playing when you're attending the hatching of a dragon. It starts impressive, and each development ups the tension. And then it breaks away from what you expected, and you realize that you can't take it for granted. Wait - are we talking about the music, or the dragon?

6. "Easy to Love" by The Jezabels

The opening is so calm, so matter of fact, and then there is a sudden sweep of delight – not unakin, I would like to think, to having a woman cautiously approach you in the street. She asks you your name, and then tells you that she is your long-lost sister in the street. For the next few minutes, you experience moments of pure, unbelievable clarity, and then you are engulfed in a wave of emotion.

7. "One Step Ahead" performed by Amiel

Neil Finn wrote this song for Split Enz, and it continued on with Crowded House, but for me, Amiel's performance is the one that really resonates. The unwavering tempo, the crisp, controlled enunciation of the singer. Everything about it bespeaks white-knuckle tension. This is what's playing in your head when you're infiltrating a secret government installation in the wilderness of Wales.

8. "Boadicea" by Enya

They played this song as the background to that terrifying educational video in high school where they show all the real-life car accidents. It's always left me feeling deeply uneasy. The droning repetition, the dirge-like choir, the feeling of ominous crescendo, they all lend themselves perfectly to a house in the city of Bath, where monstrous fungus has engulfed every room, and the cult that has been occupying the place has been consumed.

9. "Body Talk" by Ratt

Ever since I saw The Golden Child, this has been my quintessential fight song. A fight scene, especially one featuring a lot of people, is big, and chaotic, and prone to breaking off into complicated little side events. Just like this song. To make matters even better, my big chaotic fight scene breaks out in a distinguished diplomatic reception, so picture this raucous, heavy-metal anthem playing as super-powered English civil servants butcher each other in the most elegant of surroundings.

9. "Come into my world" by Kylie Minogue

Having snuck out to a London nightclub, surely you have the right to expect that you won't run into your vampire co-worker. But, if you do, this is the music that will, if there's any justice, be playing in the background. Plus, if you've seen the amazing video for this song, you'll be carrying around impressions of the world subtly warping around itself, which adds a nicely appropriate piquancy to the whole thing.

10. "Strangers" by Portishead

He is centuries old, he is powerful, and you have been called to his limousine to receive an ultimatum. He reeks of authority and menace. He has no skin – he's a flayed human being in a tub of liquid. He's unstable. And he's Belgian. For such a situation, and for such a man, there is only one possible song. Its jarring transitions, its eerie echoes, the snatches of old-timey tone, and that heartbeat-like pulse in the background. For the best effect, this should be played while you're underwater, with the lights out, and your eyes closed. If possible, throw some lake weed in there as well. After all, you want the full experience, don't you?

11. "Wish You Well" by Bernard Fanning

This song communicates perfectly the feeling of waking up exhausted, and finding that you are about to be subjected to a battery of medical examinations – examinations which are unpleasant, time-consuming, and highly intrusive. You're in the hands of cheerful professionals, but still.

12. "Volcano Songs – Duets: Walking Song" by Meredith Monk

Let me lay the scene before you. You've been pulled into a giant cube made up of reconstituted human beings. And it's doing its best to reconstitute you, breaking you down. The overwhelming tenor is organic, with people being turned into something else against their will. Which is what this song communicates, with its lack of words and instruments, its disconcerting layers of voices, its wavering tones. You can practically feel the heavy breath of others.

13. "Run, Rabbit, Run" by Flanagan & Allan

In a book full of ridiculous occurrences, there is one involving an animal that can tell the future. Powerful bureaucrats are summoned to witness the creature do its thing. There is a formal dinner, speeches are made, and then the questioning of the animal commences. Things do not end well, for either the bureaucrats, or the animal.

14. "Kara Remembers" by Bear McCreary

Yes, it's from the soundtrack to Battlestar Galactica, and I luxuriate in that fact. This music conveys like nothing else that pure moment of revelation, when all the details that you have before you merge into sudden and aghast understanding. All the implications flood in upon you, you can see the big picture, and you know that you have to act. Now.

Daniel O'Malley and The Rook links:

the book's website
the book's Wikipedia entry
video trailer for the book

The Book Case review
Booklist review
BookPage review
douglascobb review
The IE Mommy review
Kirkus Reviews review
MTV Geek review
Publishers Weekly review
The Qwillery review
Tales of the Inner Book Fanatic review
TIME review

Whatever guest post by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists