The novel mixes three main times: the present, the past, and the moments that the main character listens to and describes a piece of music. There are no chapters, which can make things a bit jumbled at times, but that's just how life is, jumbles. And that's also how Peter Els' brain is, and every composer's brain in the world. I think... Between paragraphs are some phrases, but until the last pages you don't find out why. It is remarkable though, that they are all less than 140 characters long (hint, hint).
What's in a name? Why is the novel called Orfeo? Hard to say. What's the book about? Even harder to say. But did I like it? I loved it! This is one of those books where the main story line isn't all that important and nevertheless you enjoy it immensely. You can savour the artistic writing style and rich descriptions and you get transported back into history. Okay, maybe I relate more to Peter Els than other readers because I'm a composer too, but my review, my opinion. This really is one of the best (and only) books to describe the history of contemporary music, although some important names are missing and it mainly focuses on American music.
And now for the really crazy part... I should say that, while I was reading the book, I was also reading a lot about John Adams and The Death of Klinghoffer, but I started to see huge parallels between his life and the book's composer's. And doesn't Peter Els sound a lot like Peter Sellars? I know, I know, in the beginning of the book it clearly says there are no parallels with real life people intended, but still, my imagination seemed to see some. It's possible that it made me like the book even more. For a non-musician, this Richard Powers knows what he's talking about.