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The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt was one of those books that I opened without having any idea of what to expect. What a wonderful surprise to be utterly swept away within a few pages of this fascinating book. Tracy Farr’s debut novel is the story of the woman who wanted to be “music’s most modern musician”, the woman who became the leading advocate of the theramin – invented by Leon Theramin in the 1920s, this was the first electrical musical instrument (Google it!).


In her childhood, Lena Gaunt found solace in music, first playing the piano, and then the cello. Music was her comfort in an otherwise awful and solitary life at a boarding school in Perth, far removed from her indifferent parents. When her mother died and she rejoined her father in Singapore, her independent spirit reared its head, and her “bad” behaviour resulted in her, once again, being shipped off – this time to Sydney. Oh, but Lena was delighted with Sydney! Here she discovered both the theramin, and the exotic, modernist artist, Beatrix Carmichael. Lena fell in love with both.

It is no easy task to create a novel that runs the full length of somebody’s life. Farr has executed this with aplomb. Lena Gaunt is her magnificent creation, and we are privileged to bear witness to her life. The story remains interesting, captivating, in fact. Lena is so real; I was hard-pressed to believe her autobiography was a work of fiction.


The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt has some beautiful and exquisitely written passages, passages that you’ll find yourself wanting to read over again, just to be sure you took it all in. These lie in Farr’ descriptions, which she fashions in such a way as to draw all the senses into the process of imagining. In particular where she writes about music, she brings it alive on the page. As I read about the theramin, I could hear, nay feel Lena playing it.


Tracy Farr’s gift as a writer is evident in her ability to write music on a page in the form of words. This book is gorgeous…haunting. The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt is an intriguing and unique book that could easily be overlooked. Don’t! This heartfelt story is a fabulous read, especially for those that are older, or who adore music.

Tracy Farr was born in Australia, and has lived in Wellington, New Zealand since 1996. She owns her own theramins.


REVIEWER: Emma Codd

TITLE: The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt

AUTHOR(S): Tracy Farr

PUBLISHER: Freemantle Press

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