The Glass Harmonica

Published in 1999.

Winner of the 2001 Endeavour Award

About the Book

Praised by the Everett Herald as an author who “makes her writing sing,” Louise Marley takes us into the lives of two young women of two different times–bound by a passion for the ethereal music of the glass harmonica . . .

Eilish Eam is an orphan living in London, 1761. She stands on an icy corner and plays her instrument: water-filled glasses. Fingers raw from the cold, her only comfort is the place her music takes her . . . to visions of a young girl, much her own age, but with odd short hair. Eilish survives on pennies and applause, and nothing more. Until the night Benjamin Franklin stops to listen, awestruck by her gift–and with plans for her future . . .

Erin Rushton is a musical prodigy living in Seattle, 2018. She stands in the orchestra, consumed by the music of her instrument: the glass harmonica. Like a current of electricity, the music moves throughout her body. And the only thing that laters the rhythm are the visions that haunt her . . . of an odd, old-fashioned girl, much her own age, who needs her help . . .

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From Locus Magazine:
The Glass Harmonica is a retelling of history that also looks to the future, coupled with fantastic elements intertwined with science . . . Marley adds her own twist into the mix, by hinting there are things science just can’t explain. The historical aspects address many of the mysteries associated with glass harmonica and Benjamin Franklin. Readers who are unaware of the historical accuracy Marley portrays may be less impressed with the past storyline than readers who know the glass harmonica’s history. Marley draws extensively on her own experience in the musical scene . . . The detail she ascribes to the concert halls bespeak Marley’s familiarity with them due to her performance background. The Glass Harmonica is an enchanting and engaging tale . . . there are many little things that hint at Marley’s political and social agenda, but they never submerge the story.

From Science Fiction Weekly:
Vivid and fascinating . . . Lushly described . . . By turns sobering and delightful, The Glass Harmonica is a novel that will haunt readers.

From VOYA Magazine:
It is rare to find a book that can fit into multiple genres—and do it well. Marley’s latest offering does just that . . . A well-written, engaging story.

In The Glass Harmonica, author Louise Marley makes excellent use of her experience in the world of professional music. The small world of the concert circuit in 2018, which dominates Erin and Charlie’s lives, is vivid and fascinating. Readers will hear the lushly described music played by both women as Erin and Eilish wrestle with the glass harmonica’s alleged demons. While this novel is less overtly radical than Marley’s The Terrorists of Irustan, The Glass Harmonica is not for the faint of heart. Serious concerns dominate the story: slavery, poverty and physical disability . . . the message is chillingly relevant. Marley mixes the tragedy with a good dose of romance, and even her least likable characters reveal admirable hidden qualities. She plays with the parallels between Erin and Eilish’s lives in a manner delicate yet explicit. This balancing act holds through the end of the book, harmonizing elements of triumphant success and mournful loss. By turns sobering and delightful, The Glass Harmonica is a novel that will haunt readers long after they have moved on to less complex fare.

From True Review:
The surprise here is the deft way in which Marley captures the literal sounds of the music . . . her brilliant use of music itself is language. It’s the most delightful novel I’ve read this year.

A wonderful story combining two stories separated by 250 years and the author’s own knowledge of music.

. . . a wonderful, heartwarming novel.

From Romantic Times Magazine:
Ms. Marley’s gift of lyrical prose is coupled with a deftness for weaving highly charged emotions into an exquisite tapestry of music and love, uniting science, fantasy and historical fiction into a captivating story.

From The Seattle Times:
Marley’s gift for evoking historical people and places, as well as her skillful portrayal of musical life, provide some pleasurable reading.


Background and Other Interesting Notes

Do listen to a brief Mozart piece written for the glass armonica: Adagio for Glass Harmonica, Mozart

Here’s a charming example of glass music.

If the psychic elements of The Glass Harmonica intrigue you, look up these books:

  • Tune Your Brain, by Elizabeth Miles
  • Miracles of Mind, Russell Targ and Jane Katra
  • Mind Trek, by Joseph McMoneagle

Readers of The Glass Harmonica who are interested in history might want to check out the following works:

  • Franklin, the Autobiography
  • The Devious Dr. Franklin, Colonial Agent, by David T. Morgan
  • Mozart, by Peter Gay
  • Costume 1066 – 1990’s, by John Peacock
  • English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh; an indispensable source for writing dialogue of another age
  • London, the Novel, by Edward Rutherford

If you’re interested in musical aspects of the novel:

  • Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy, by Robert Jourdain; a marvelous book full of scientific, artistic, and historical tidbits.
  • Visit William Wilde Zeitler’s excellent web page at for pictures, sound bites, history, and a wealth of links.
  • The Finkenbeiner web page has lovely Sound samples of the glass harmonica. Don’t miss the exquisite fragment of “Shenandoah.”
  • Check out the Brussels Virtuosi’s recording, if you can find it, of the Mozart Flute Quartets for a lovely reading of the “Adagio in C.”

Here are some possible discussion questions for The Glass Harmonica:

  • Do you detect similarities between the cast of characters in the 18th century and that of the 21st?

(Each of the main characters has a corresponding character in the other time period.)

  • Do you agree that music has healing (or destructive) powers?

(In the 18th century, the glass harmonica gained the reputation of being a dangerous
instrument to people with nervous problems, pregnant women, or children.)

  • Do you think Benjamin Franklin’s epitaph (at the end of the book) means he believed in reincarnation?
  • The book was published in 2000. What events have occurred since then that seem to bear out the author’s vision of the future?

(Issues of mass transit, enhanced medical treatments for neurological/spinal diseases, 3-D
visual projections, retro styles in automobiles and decor, tent cities outside urban areas.)

  • Do you think there is a parallel between slavery in the 18th century and the disadvantaged population of the 21st century? Is the reaction of the characters different in the earlier period than it is in the later one?

If you enjoy musical, historical fiction, you might also like Mozart’s Blood, a novel which also features Mozart.