Granted, The Emperor Waltz is written very well and fascinates. Hensher succeeds in taking his readers along in the lives of a varied group of people, varying successfully in style with every group or person. I was not happy with the structure of The Emperor Waltz however. The hefty novel is divided into several story lines which span 18 centuries. Being in the same novel I would naturally expect those story lines to have a connection. Well, this connection is either too obvious for words (‘you have to stand for your cause in good and in bad times) or almost a gimmick (what occurs in all but one story? The Emperor Waltz). Two story lines are the most important: the history of Bauhaus (including famous painters as Kandinsky and Klee) from its origin to its downfall and the Big Gay Bookshop in London. Where Bauhaus starts in an almost introvert way, concentrating mostly on family life and homely scenes, it ends in a bloody clash with the Nazi’s. The Big Gay Bookshop on the other hand starts among family feuds, discrimination and controversy and ends with its owner leading a wealthy settled life. As far as I am concerned, Hersher should have kept it at that. I really cannot see what the story about young people getting drunk and taking poppers contributes (apart from them listening to the waltz), or the story about the author with diabetes who ends up in hospital (which apparently is autobiographic) and who manages to secure a room to himself, let alone the story about an Egyptian woman who becomes one of the first Christian saints in the 2nd century AC. Yes, of course, she sacrifices her life for Christ which makes for the same theme as the other story lines. Something goes wrong however when I am left wondering why I am reading about her for some 50 pages. My geography teacher used to tell me that I should write more concise and more to the point, it is a pity she did not teach Hensher as well. The Bauhaus and The Big Gay Bookshop are excellent stories and would have made a perfect novel on their own, they do not need the other story lines.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3Mwa23WCIA (The Emperor Waltz)