The Cellist’s Notebook, a novella by cellist and award-winning author, Kittie Lambton, has everything I like in a book – a great story, cellos, history, an eager young cello student – and a cat! I usually read novels rather than novellas, but this book has made me want to read more books in this short format.
Unlike many novellas that are set in one time and place, The Cellist’s Notebook tells stories in two different times – our own time and during World War II. It is also set in both England (Norfolk and Cumbria) and Paris.
The story begins as 10-year-old Emily goes to visit her grandmother in Cumbria for the summer holidays. Emily is excited to see her grandmother and really looking forward to this vacation because her grandmother
“said last year that she would show me how to play the cello this summer.” (p. 3)
A Helpful Cat
Do any of you have an official cat greeting committee at home? Emily’s grandmother, Nana, does! When Emily and her family arrive at Nana’s house, the cat, Babu, comes to greet them. As they pulled up the drive, Emily
” . . . saw Nana’s beautiful white cat strolling stealthily down towards them as if he knew they were coming and was welcoming them.” (p. 2)
Later in the story, Babu steps in to help. Emily sees an old photograph of her great uncle, Leni, with a cello, prompting her to search for Nana’s cello. Babu leads her to the top of the house and into the attic:
“Babu walked past the door and she followed him into the hall and up the staircase to the landing. He led her further up yet more stairs which she had not really noticed before at the back of the house . . . At the end of the landing . . . the narrow door opened revealing a steep staircase which led up to what appeared to be the attic.” (p. 7)
Cellos in the Attic
Once Emily is in the attic, Babu takes her straight to not one – but two cellos!
“Babu sped across the attic floor and meowed . . . Babu hopped up on an old wooden chest of drawers and curled his tail about his paws. Across from the cat, two large black cases lay on the floor.” (p. 7)
Lambton describes Emily’s wonder as she opens the larger case with the initials L.T.P. on it, finding
“the most beautiful instrument she had ever seen.” (p. 8)
After carefully examining the cello and the contents of its case, Emily makes another discovery with the help of Babu.
As cats often do, Babu knocks a small pot off the dresser where he is sitting. Fortunately, this pot rolls under the chest of drawers, and when Emily kneels to retrieve it, she sees something wedged behind the chest.
A Mysterious Notebook
Behind the dresser, Emily finds an old satchel with the same three letters on it that are on the larger cello case: L.T.P. Inside the bag, she finds an old green notebook with handwritten music in it!
Later, Emily explains to her Nana:
“Babu took me to the room upstairs and I found the cellos in the attic.” (p. 14)
Nana then tells Emily about her brother, Leni, who played the cello and disappeared during World War II. That night, Nana thinks of her brother:
“Leni’s cello sang to her in ther dreams of late . . . Maybe if she played the cello again her brother would come back to her more in her dreams . . .” (p. 15)
Meanwhile in Paris
Next, the story takes us to occupied Paris during World War II, where we meet Henri Berger. As I don’t want to give any spoilers, you’ll just have to read the book to find out how Leni’s cello music brings the characters together.
The Cellist’s Notebook left me wanting more. I hope Lambton writes a sequel because I want to read more about Leni, Nana, and Emily, in particular. More cat antics from Babu would be lovely as well!
A Great Holiday Book
This is a wonderful summer book as it opens with Emily’s summer holidays. It is also a great choice for the winter break as the story comes together during Emily’s Christmas vacation, ending with a cello concert.
The Cellist’s Notebook, at under 70 pages long, is very easy to read in one sitting. It’s a heartwarming story that makes a great escape from current events.
Contest: What does Leni’s composition sound like?
Kittie Lambton and The Cello Museum have a contest to see who can write the most fitting musical fragment of Leni’s cello and piano piece that Emily discovers in the notebook. Lambton describes the work as:
“the little melody that triggers memory and is so very important in my book. This need not be a long-winded music composition but just a fragment. Just enough to be timeless and generational.”
The deadline is 11:59 PM (New York time) on 15 August 2021.
Prizes include a signed copy of The Cellist’s Notebook and a Cello Museum mug. Get contest details here.
- Publication Date: 30 January 2020
- Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
- Number of Pages: 68
- ISBN-10 : 006283486X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1913136994
- Reading age: 9-12 suggested, adults will enjoy it, too
- Kittie Lambton’s website
Purchase the book here.
What is your favorite fictional work that includes cellos? Please let us know in the comments.
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