Simon the Fiddler: A Novel (Hardcover)
May 2020 Indie Next List
“Simon Boudlin’s passion is to be the best fiddle player there is, beholden to no one and following his muse wherever it takes him. But when he meets the beautiful Doris Aherne, his plans change. Paulette Jiles once again captures the great promise and sweeping beauty of the Texas frontier in cinematic prose as poetic and lyrical as the tunes that pour forth from the fiddler himself. Simon joins that great pantheon of strivers for a better life, and readers will root for him every step of the way. Fans of News of the World can rejoice — with Simon the Fiddler, Jiles has done it again!”
— Peter Sherman, Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA
From PW's Starred Review:
Jiles follows up National Book Award finalist News of the World (2016, etc.) with another atmospheric adventure in post–Civil War Texas.
During his few reluctant months in the Confederate Army, Simon Boudlin’s main concerns are staying alive and protecting his precious fiddle so that after the war he can make enough money to buy some land and settle down with the right woman. He sees her after his unit surrenders, at a dinner for the officers: Doris Dillon is an Irish indentured servant to Yankee Col. Webb, and by the time Simon learns her name he already knows that Webb is an arrogant SOB who mistreats the help and is nasty to musicians. That’s the last Simon sees of Doris for more than a year, as he forms a band with fellow veterans (three of the novel’s many deft characterizations) and they play their way across Texas, technically under military rule but mostly in a state of near anarchy; the musicians’ gigs, brilliantly captured in Jiles’ quiet but resonant prose, are as likely to end in a brawl as with applause. Simon and his mates bunk down in stolen boats and shelled-out buildings that make visible the cost of war, but magnificent descriptions of their travels make palpable the varied beauty of the landscape, from East Texas pines to the banks of the Nueces River, where Simon plays at a wild Tejano wedding and finally has enough money to buy his dreamed-of land. He’s been in touch with Doris via letters supposedly from his Irish-American drummer, Patrick, who helpfully invents some shared relatives, and is making his way toward San Antonio to rescue his beloved, who’s finding it increasingly difficult to evade Webb’s determined advances. The pace picks up and tension rises after Simon reaches San Antonio; there are some menacing moments, but clever plotting has laid the groundwork for a happy ending with just enough hints of potential troubles ahead to remain true to Jiles’ loving but cleareyed portrait of Texas’ vibrant, violent frontier culture.
Vividly evocative and steeped in American folkways: more great work from a master storyteller.
How does she do it? The narrative thoughts and dialog seem to emerge from the 1860s as if you are watching an historical movie or documentary. As if the author was born before the American Civil War and is recounting actual events in language and usage from that very time. Paulette Jiles is amazing.
Simon’s past is revealed slowly throughout this novel. It starts with 23-year old Simon’s conscription into a Confederate unit toward the end of the war. Fortunately he lands in a regimental band and is dubbed “the fiddler” henceforth. Within weeks, his unit has surrendered to Union soldiers in the southern part of coastal Texas. As part of the Union Army’s occupation, the Confederate soldiers are moved up river to Fort Brown. And there, during these turbulent times, Simon’s life really begins when he falls in love with an Irish governess, Miss Doris Dillon, who is in service to the family of Union Colonel Franklin Webb.
As the Webbs make their way to the Colonel’s new assignment in San Antonio, Simon starts to believe he can have his dream of land ownership, love and family. But first he must come up with the money to purchase acreage in the Red River Valley. He and his bandmates are free of the military and they travel a circuitous route to Galveston, Houston, Banquete and finally San Antonio performing and improving their fees along the way. San Antonio presents a treachery that threatens Simon’s life, freedom and his relationship with Miss Dillon.
This is a raucous novel at times – brawls, yellow fever, floods and alligators are only some of the challenges Simon survives. But throughout, the beauty of Texas, Doris Dillon’s tenacity and Simon’s dream prevail. This is a book I wanted to take in and savor. A great read for everyone that appreciates historical fiction.
The critically acclaimed, bestselling author of News of the World and Enemy Women returns to Texas in this atmospheric story, set at the end of the Civil War, about an itinerant fiddle player, a ragtag band of musicians with whom he travels trying to make a living, and the charming young Irish lass who steals his heart.
In March 1865, the long and bitter War between the States is winding down. Till now, twenty-three-year-old Simon Boudlin has evaded military duty thanks to his slight stature, youthful appearance, and utter lack of compunction about bending the truth. But following a barroom brawl in Victoria, Texas, Simon finds himself conscripted, however belatedly, into the Confederate Army. Luckily his talent with a fiddle gets him a comparatively easy position in a regimental band.
Weeks later, on the eve of the Confederate surrender, Simon and his bandmates are called to play for officers and their families from both sides of the conflict. There the quick-thinking, audacious fiddler can’t help but notice the lovely Doris Mary Dillon, an indentured girl from Ireland, who is governess to a Union colonel’s daughter.
After the surrender, Simon and Doris go their separate ways. He will travel around Texas seeking fame and fortune as a musician. She must accompany the colonel’s family to finish her three years of service. But Simon cannot forget the fair Irish maiden, and vows that someday he will find her again.
Incandescent in its beauty, told in Paulette Jiles’s trademark spare yet lilting style, Simon the Fiddler is a captivating, bittersweet tale of the chances a devoted man will take, and the lengths he will go to fulfill his heart’s yearning.
"Jiles’ sparse but lyrical writing is a joy to read. . . . Lose yourself in this entertaining tale.” — Associated Press
Paulette Jiles is a novelist, poet, and memoirist. She is the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the novels Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color of Lightning, Lighthouse Island, and News of the World, which was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, Texas.
“The reader is treated to a kind of alchemy on the page when character, setting and song converge at all the right notes, generating an authentic humanity that is worth remembering and celebrating.” — New York Times
“Jiles’ sparse but lyrical writing is a joy to read. . . . A beautifully written book and a worthy follow-up to News of the World.” — Associated Press
“Imbued with the dust, grit, and grime of Galveston at the close of the Civil War, Simon the Fiddler immerses readers in the challenges of Reconstruction. Jiles brings her singular voice to the young couple's travails, her written word as lyrical and musical as Simon's bow raking over his strings. Loyal Jiles readers and fans of Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See and Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge will adore the author's latest masterpiece." — Booklist (starred review)
“Luminescent prose. . . . Jiles’ timeworn territory provides a cozy escape. — Los Angeles Times
“Endearing . . . And when the final battle royal arrives in San Antonio, it’s just the rousing ballad we want to hear.” — Washington Post
“Jiles’s limber tale satisfies with welcome splashes of comedy and romance.” — Publishers Weekly
“Vividly evocative and steeped in American folkways: more great work from a master storyteller.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“In Simon the Fiddler we once again accompany a cast of intriguing characters on a suspenseful Texas-based quest just after the Civil War. . . . A crackling-good adventure tale.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[Jiles's] description of Simon and Doris traveling on separate journeys across the Texas landscape is superb, causing us to feel the elation and sense of possibility that rises in the hearts of man, woman and beast in setting out on the road.” — Wall Street Journal
“Beautifully told with lyrical descriptions, the novel illuminates the everyday struggles of the era.” — Christian Science Monitor
“Jiles makes Texas in the 1800s hot and palpable for her readers, edgy and lawless, but the story also sings with melody.” — Book Trib