Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

1. First lines. 2. Published 2020 William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. 3. Music [Public Domain] via Pixabay 4. Fiddle [Public Domain] via Pikist 5. Sadness-person [Public Domain] via Needpix

At the end of the American Civil War, Simon Boudlin plays the fiddle with a small group of musicians at a victory celebration. There in the audience he sees a girl, Doris, who catches his eye. Even without meeting her, he is determined to marry her, but she is a nanny to Colonel Webb’s daughter, and the family move to San Antonio. With his musician friends, Simon travels across chaotic, lawless Texas earning money as musicians wherever they can, in order to fulfill his dream of buying land and marrying Doris.


“He would miss the feel of the fiddle neck in his left hand, against the heel of his thumb. The magic that was in it, that came to his touch and his call.”

“Simon took his fiddle and bow out of the case and joined in. Doroteo struck out light chords, the boy started in on the bodhran and outdid himself, running the tone of it from low, slowly, from the rim to the centre, a march for the funeral cortege carrying poor Neil Gow’s second wife to the graveyard. At the end there was a moment of complete silence and then the applause began and went on for a long time.”

“It was different then. The air was different and the long remote crying of the steamboat whistles as they came down from the Monongahela and Pittsburgh seemed to tell the story of a great nation and a great people with adventure and the look of distance in their eyes, and now it was somehow soiled with the stench of the dead. MacFarland was dead. Lincoln was dead. Neighbors had shot one another dead. It occurred to him that he rarely laughed anymore. Maybe laughter would come back, but it was a dark sun that had come over the country and a plague of crows.”

My opinion:

I really liked that music took such a prominent place in this story, adding depth to the picture of post-war Texas, and making complete the character of Simon. I felt the American West come alive in this story.

The opinion of others:
  • Kirkus: “Vividly evocative and steeped in American folkways: more great work from a master storyteller.”
  • Publishers Weekly: “Jiles immerses the reader in the sensory details of the era, with special emphasis on the demands and rewards of a ragtag Texas fiddle band. Jiles’s limber tale satisfies with welcome splashes of comedy and romance.”
  • LA Times: “… sometimes tends toward the old-fashioned, sentimental and untrue. … Jiles’ airy, luminescent prose and facility in spinning miniature dramas carries the novel’s sometimes predictable narrative further than one might expect.”

Paulette Jiles


    • Paulette Jiles has also written a book called “News of the World” which I also loved. It’s being made into a movie starring Tom Hanks, so I’ll be eagerly watching for that one.


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