[Crossposted from a 3-star entry on Goodreads.]
No, it’s not a proper review (I leave that up to the experts), but more of an extended observation, which can perhaps be best illustrated with an example of Arthur Phillips’ prose, with our protagonist Julian listening to his Walkman in the Manhattan twilight:
…and he had the sensation that he might never be so happy again as long as he lived. This quake of joy, inspiring and crippling, was longing, but longing for what? True love? A wife? Wealth? Music was not so specific as that. “Love” was in most of these potent songs, of course, but they — the music, the light, the season — implied more than this, because, treacherously, Julian was swelling only with longing for longing. He felt his nerves open and turn to the world like sunflowers on the beat, but this desire could not achieve release; his body strained forward, but independent of any goal, though he did not know it for many years to come, until he proved it.
Because years later, when he had captured all that — love, wife, home, success, child — still he longed, just the same, when he listened to those same songs, now on a portable CD player, easily repeated without the moodicidal interruption of rewinding (turning spindles wheezing as batteries failed). He felt it all again. He pressed Play and longed still.
It’s eloquent stuff, yes, all this aching, the blunt and concise beauty of a phrase like “this quake of joy.” And yes, there are small gems like these scattered throughout the novel. But see, it’s that word “moodicidal” that’s, well, moodicidal. All this rapture, then a tiny thud, as if our appealingly lovelorn but not completely sympathetic protagonist — the sort of person who would craft a word like “moodicidal” as a form of emotional self-defense, if that makes any sense — had insinuated himself into the narration. A private grief made more palatable, perhaps, pulled to the surface, manifested and masquerading as verbal artifice. Because after all, the emotional core of The Song Is You is loss (the death of a child, a divorce), its depths momentarily excavated, dragged up to the light, by the fortuitous turn of the iPod’s click wheel.