Erik Satie begins life with every possible advantage. But after the dual blows of his mother’s death and his father’s breakdown upend his childhood, Erik and his younger siblings–Louise and Conrad–are scattered. Later, as an ambitious young composer, Erik flings himself into the Parisian art scene, aiming for greatness but achieving only notoriety.
As the years, then decades, pass, he alienates those in his circle as often as he inspires them, lashing out at friends and lovers like Claude Debussy and Suzanne Valadon. Only Louise and Conrad are steadfast allies. Together they strive to maintain their faith in their brother’s talent and hold fast to the badly frayed threads of family. But in a journey that will take her from Normandy to Paris to Argentina, Louise is rocked by a severe loss that ultimately forces her into a reckoning with how Erik–obsessed with his art and hungry for fame–will never be the brother she’s wished for.
With her buoyant, vivid reimagination of an iconic artist’s eventful life, Caitlin Horrocks has written a captivating and ceaselessly entertaining novel about the tenacious bonds of family and the costs of greatness, both to ourselves and to those we love.
On sale July 30, 2019
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Praise for The Vexations
“A heartbreakingly beautiful novel about the sacrifices people make for what they hold dear.” –STARRED review, Library Journal
“Horrocks paints an atmospheric portrait of bohemian Paris and a poignant one of Satie and his avant-garde circle, who “lived in the yet: not now, but soon” when their art would be recognized…Finely written and deeply empathetic, a powerful portrait of artistic commitment and emotional frustration.”―Kirkus
“A finally wrought, sensitive novel about family and genius, and the toll that genius exacts on family in pursuit of great art.” ―The Millions
“Horrocks’s opening chapters are deeply affecting in their portrayal of childhood grief and are also among the novel’s most vibrant, evoking the salt air and earthy people of the Norman coast while shifting between characters . . . Horrocks shines as she renders the Montmartre demimonde in Day-Glo colors, as provocative as a Toulouse-Lautrec canvas. Deftly she plumbs the singular zeal—and occasional neuroses—that drive artists toward achievement as well as self-destruction . . . Cameos from Jean Cocteau and Claude Debussy add sparkle . . .The Vexations explores grand themes with grace and conviction.” —Hamilton Cain, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A beautifully melancholic tone permeates this finely written debut novel from acclaimed short story author Horrocks. More than biographical fiction about French avant-garde composer Erik Satie (1866-1925), it’s a multiperspective saga about the Satie siblings and their circle, and how their lives touched and diverged over decades. … Erik’s story looks beyond the “tortured genius” stereotype to something more nuanced and real, while both Louise and painter Suzanne Valadon, Erik’s one-time companion, personify different aspects of being a woman alone. The bleakness of the themes of loneliness, family separation, and thwarted expectations sits in counterpoise to several couples’ deep love and the creativity that produces innovative art. ―Booklist
“Horrocks’s vivid, hard-edged debut about French composer Erik Satie focuses on his erratic career, difficult personality, and dysfunctional family… a portrait of avant-garde turn-of-the-century Paris that proves art isn’t easy and neither are artists. Horrocks shines while envisioning Erik scoring a silent film, debuting a masterpiece, or being released from jail (where he was held for defaming a reviewer) so he can complete a commission. Horrocks’s description of Satie’s music is also apt for her noteworthy novel: slow, spare, and at its best finely filigreed.” –Publishers Weekly
“I’ve rarely seen a debut as buoyant and inspired as Caitlin Horrocks’s The Vexations. In language both champagne-clear and effortlessly lively, Horrocks plumbs the world of Erik Satie through those closest to him, the siblings, friends, and lovers who struggle to support and understand him even as his obsessions isolate and score him deeper than anyone can reach. As much about the vexations and impossibilities of life itself as about Satie’s singular genius, this is a dazzling first novel from a writer to watch.” —Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin
“I’ve loved Caitlin Horrocks’s work for a long time, so I am not surprised–though I am overjoyed–to find that she has written a gorgeous, sensitive, deeply immersive novel in The Vexations. You’ll never hear the music of Erik Satie again without diving back into the layers of genius, torment, eccentricity, abandonment, and profound sadness that Horrocks so masterfully evokes in this beautiful book.” ―Lauren Groff, New York Times bestselling author of Fates and Furies and Florida
“What a fabulous, original novel The Vexations is. Its unflinching honesty about an artistic world notable for both heart and heartlessness has given us a haunting, indelible story.” ―Joan Silber, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award winner Improvement
“Genius blazes in this gorgeous and breathtakingly assured novel—sometimes center-stage, sometimes in a corner—but there are no satellites: seldom have I read a book about art that refuses so staunchly to treat any life as minor. The Vexations is a rare, engrossing, humane achievement.” – Garth Greenwell, author of National Book Award nominee What Belongs to You
“The Vexations does what the best historical fiction must: it takes us beyond biography to the secret intimacies that make up a life. We’re granted access not just to the full and heartbreaking life of Erik Satie, but to a range of vibrant, deeply human characters—his wounded sister, Louise; his dutiful brother, Conrad; and the visionary artists in his circle at the Chat Noir. Among these is a young poet named Philippe, whose work Satie sets to the piano, though Satie’s “arrangements didn’t highlight his poetry so much as make it strange.” In this ambitious, surprising, and immensely moving novel, Caitlin Horrocks does the same for the music of Erik Satie, making it strange, making it new.” –Eleanor Henderson, New York Times bestselling author of Ten Thousand Saints