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The Variations

The Variations

by Patrick Langley

Regular price $19.95
Regular price Sale price $19.95

Selda Heddle, a famously reclusive composer, is found dead in a snowy field near her Cornish home. She was educated at Agnes’s Hospice for Acoustically Gifted Children, which for centuries has offered its young wards a grounding in the gift—an inherited ability to tune into the voices and sounds of the past.

When she dies, Selda’s gift passes down to her grandson Wolf, who must make sense of her legacy, and learn to live with the newly unleashed voices in his head. Ambitious and exhilarating, The Variations is a novel of startling originality about music and the difficulty—or impossibility—of living with the past.

Additional Book Information

Series: New York Review Books
ISBN: 9781681378398
Pages: 472
Publication Date:


There is something otherworldly about the setting of The Variations, and its alien qualities are only enhanced by the occasional references that remind us we’re in contemporary England....For all The Variations’ unusual elements, Langley handles traditional storytelling modes expertly. He can nail a character in a few lines... He can do action. And he has a knack for ending chapters with the expertise of a theatrical director ramping up the tension and then—curtain!—dropping into silence....a book whose oddness stretches the reader without estranging us. It asks more questions than it answers, but provides plenty of delight to compensate.
—John Self, Financial Times

The wonderful latest from Langley (Arkady) tells the story of a British avant-garde composer, semi-estranged from her family and friends, who dies while walking in a snowstorm in Cornwall...the story of four generations of “gifted” individuals unfolds, taking readers from WWII to the present, from Selda’s birth to her death. Langley is a mesmerizing guide to Selda’s music and the fantastical world of the hospice, a “variously demonized, patronized, scorned, venerated, vilified, and today largely ignored and near-bankrupted institution." This is exquisite.
Publishers Weekly

Ecstasy is a word I’d happily associate with Patrick Langley’s lyrical and looping novel The Variations, a work with a similarly thrilling Nabokovian intrigue in the relationship between patterning, form and takes place in a world that looks very much like our own but feels alien and strange, as if brushed by the supernatural. In The Variations, reality is ever so slightly askew.
—Matthew Janney, The Guardian

The Variations is a wonderfully mysterious novel suffused with a Lynchian eeriness. I was totally under Langley's spell and under the thrall of the eerie rhythms governing The Variations. Simply unforgettable.
—Brandon Taylor, author Real Life

If Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black were written by John Banville channelling M. John Harrison, the result would look something like this. And yet Langley has made something new and unexpected about how the present is, necessarily and always, an echo corridor of the past. Beautifully written, powered by a wonderfully intelligent conceptual dynamo, and deftly sprung with surprises, The Variations is an utterly original book about haunting. It is strange, resonant, and, yes, haunting.
—Neel Mukherjee, author of The Lives of Others

The Variations is a passionate meditation on how past and present meet and annihilate one another in the flare of individual human experience. Music is presented as a kind of weather, blustery and changeable, unlimited by its own time. It takes you up, puts you down, whirls you away. Langley’s prose, lyrical and accurate, enlivens and illuminates. A tremendous, seriously ambitious novel.
—M. John Harrison, author of Wish I Was Here

I thought The Variations was remarkable. I loved its hallucinatory vision of music as both gift and affliction, as a sort of crystallised form of human history. A book of strange and revelatory genius.
—Anna Smaill, author of The Chimes

A skillfully told story about inheritance and inspiration, music and time. Langley has a fine eye for detail and scene-making, and The Variations is full of startling observations and images.
—Martin MacInnes, author of In Ascension

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