The Bells

Publisher: Vintage Canada
Dazzling, enchanting and epic, The Bells is the confession of a thief, kidnapper and unlikely lover — a boy with the voice of an angel whose exquisite sense of hearing becomes both his life's tragic curse and its greatest blessing.

Moses Froben was born in a belfry high in the Swiss Alps, the bastard son of a deaf-mute woman banished to the church tower to ring each day the Loudest and Most Beautiful Bells in the land. His life is simple but he is content, until the day his father recognizes Moses's singular sense of hearing and its power to expose his sins. Cast into the world with only his ears to protect and guide him, Moses finds refuge in the choir of the great Abbey of St. Gall and becomes its star singer, only to endure the horrifying act of castration meant to preserve his angelic voice and turn him into a musico.

In a letter to his son, Moses recounts his humble birth in eighteenth-century Switzerland and his life as a novice monk, and tells of the two noble friends — and a forbidden lover — whom he cherished during his chaotic years in Mozart's Vienna as apprentice to the great Gaetano Guadagni, and even as he ascended Europe's most celebrated stages as Lo Svizzero. But in this letter he will also reveal the astonishing secrets of his past and answer the question that has shadowed his fame: how did Moses Froben, world-renowned musico, come to raise a son who by all rights he could never have sired?

From the Hardcover edition.


First, there were the bells. Three of them, cast from warped shovels, rakes, and hoes, cracked cauldrons, dulled ploughshares, one rusted stove, and, melted into each, a single golden coin. They were rough and black except along their silvery lips, where my mother’s mallets had struck a million...
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1. Harvell begins his novel with a letter from the narrator's son Nicolai, in which we learn a great deal, including that Nicolai never knew his mother and that in 1806 Moses is a famous singer. How does this affect our experience of the novel? How would the novel be different with these two pages torn out?


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"Wrenching and painfully triumphant. . . . A poignant and acutely told story of the human spirit; highly recommended."
 — Library Journal

"Harvell has fashioned an engrossing first novel ringing with sounds; a musical and literary treat."
 — Booklist

"The Bells does for the ears what Perfume did for the nose. A novel to engage the senses as well as tickle the mind."
 — Sarah Dunant, international bestselling author of Sacred Hearts

"Astonishing in its originality, epic in its scope, luminous in its richness, The Bells is a novel to be savoured page by glorious page."
 — Cathy Marie Buchanan, New York Times bestselling author of The Day the Falls Stood Still

One of the most difficult feats Harvell accomplishes in The Bells is capturing the physical experience of music. It warms necks and backs, resonates in jaws and temples, and rings in chests and legs. Music fights with death, seduces a woman, guides a thief and ultimately triumphs in love. Harvell has written an entertaining and eye-opening aria of a book.”
 — The Washington Post

From the Hardcover edition.