Lisa Genova – Every Note Played


Every Note Played is an incredibly well imagined, well written, and well-researched book. I often felt like I was reading three books at the same time, and all three resonated deeply. Yet, it never ever feels overly cerebral or intellectual, Genova’s instincts as a writer are incredible, her characters are believable, approachable, human. I teared up so many times during this book, but it never felt sappy or forced.

“Every note played is a life and death.”

Nowadays, a good research is not a given, we almost don’t expect it from a writer anymore. Call me old-fashioned, but attention to details makes the story, and Lisa Genova, as a truly scientific mind, approached every subject in this book with respect, no matter how big or small.

At the end of the book, there are a couple of pages of acknowledgments, and they are incredible. The inspiration for the book came from Richard Glatzer, one of the writers/directors of “Still Alice” – an Academy Award-winning film based on her first book (Still Alice) where she made a story revolving around Alzheimer’s disease. Richard had ALS and died from this illness in 2015. After that, Lisa spent time with a lot of incredible individuals (and their families) who were affected by ALS. It truly does show in the book – Every Note Played feels incredibly intimate when it comes to the intricacies of living with ALS – details that go far beyond her line of work. Even though she does give a lot of fascinating details about the illness itself, she focuses on the “care” side of the disease. It is so incredibly loving and humane, without sparing us the unfairness of an illness that is so deeply cruel. That’s the thing about this book (and I believe – other Genova’s books) – you never lose sight of the humans affected, their struggle, their issues, their challenges, their little victories. This is what makes Every Note played such an engrossing book to read.

And when I would expect a scientifically inclined writer like Lisa Genova (which is an understatement, since Lisa graduated valedictorian from Bates College with a degree in biopsychology and holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University) to do its research on a neuro disease like ALS and all that it carries for the one affected by the disease, it is pretty incredible how Genova approached other subjects that are almost equally important in this book.

“Everything begins and ends. Every day and night, every concerto, every relationship, every life. Everything ends eventually.”

In her book, Genova gives this disease to a famous and world-renowned piano player. That right there is such a “wow” moment. Richard lives for his piano, for his music, for performing. He sacrificed everything to achieve what he achieved. And right at the moment when he is diagnosed, he is living through the peek of all his effort, after his divorce finally came through. Again, Genova did some great research when it comes to piano-playing and being a musician in general. As an opera singer, I can vouch for this.

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The book gives us another perspective in parallel with Richard’s – his ex-wife’s Karina. Over the course of the book, author reconnects these two characters and she does it in such an unbelievable believable way. The thing is, I could see she was reconnecting Richard and Karina in some ways (if not, she would not give Karina such a strange voice in the book), and I was highly skeptical. I myself went through a delicate divorce a couple of years ago and this situation was beyond my comprehension. Still, when Lisa finally did this in the book, it came so naturally, so perfectly. And I got it.

The whole book was a humbling reading experience. And not just because of this disease that affects some, while I’m here perfectly healthy, with functional arms, legs, lungs… The way Lisa wrote about this fragile relationship between Richard and Karina, and not just them – Richard and his family, Richard and his daughter Grace, all of it is deeply humbling and soul-shattering. Breakups are complicated, divorces are complicated, parenting is complicated, and Genova approaches it unapologetically. She does not take sides, and her characters truly have to find the strength to own their mistakes and to claim the cages they are carrying with themselves everywhere.

“Making him wrong allows her to feel right, and feeling right is her drug of choice.”

This truly resonated with me personally. After my own divorce, I thought my life will get insanely awesome right away. But in truth, I had to work long hard to free myself from the cages I built, they weren’t there built by my husband, as I thought when I was with him. What a moment that was, when I read this, exactly THIS, on the pages of this book. This author does not write what she does not understand. It helped me understand my own divorce experience better, to understand my ex-husband better, and to see my own selfishness and childishness better, which is so incredibly valuable for my own state of mind and my own state of soul.

I try not to give 5/5 star reviews to just any book, but it was easy to give a raving review to Every Note Played. This was my first Lisa Genova book, but it will not be my last.

Have you read this book? Or any other book by Lisa Genova? Write your thoughts in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “Lisa Genova – Every Note Played

  1. Wow, I’d never heard of this book but it sounds deeply interesting! The combination of music, impairment, and divorce is really appealing to me for some reason. I may end up reading this!


  2. I read her book, “Left Neglected” and loved it. Her characters and their story will stay with you. I am looking forward to reading this new book.


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