The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
If I had to describe this novel in one sentence:
A swift sharp drop kick to the genital area.
This is a story of a shy, gentle, educated piano tuner who specializes in tuning Erard pianos. Set in the 1800s, the British empire is struggling to maintain control of their rule in Asia and Edgar Drake is summoned by the war office on a mission…to go to the far east, past Mandalay, to a remote village where an eccentric Englishman Dr. Anthony Carroll maintains the local peace by playing his Erard piano.
The book has some wonderful descriptions of Drake’s journey but it wears thin quickly. I found some of the details of the villages and the Burmese culture interesting, but I also had to read very intentionally in order to avoid dialogue that the author worked into the paragraphs without using quotations or different paragraphs.
Dialogue compressed into one paragraph throughout the novel is very frustrating to read and I found it rather pointless. Why have actual formatted dialogue at certain times and then have random giant amount of conversation squished down into one paragraph?
Then there’s the…entire plot. Drake leaves his wife of many years to travel east because of a hole he feels inside, an emptiness he wants filled. As the novel continues, it never truly addresses what the hole is and ultimately whether it is ever filled. We get the sense that he is falling in love with a young Burmese girl who is somewhat Carroll’s partner, although we are never enlightened as to what exactly those two are to each other.
Much of the book focuses on the politics and military movements of the time, which is pretty dry and boring. I’ve read GOOD historical fiction novels that include actual history in them without being boring. (Ken Follett is a good example of such writing.) This novel is not one of those books, unfortunately.
In the end,
Edgar discovers the English gentleman he has been spending time with may or may not be a spy and the woman is his accomplice. He runs back to Mae Lwin (remote village) to find them and hears a noise, falls to the ground and feels a warmth spreading out beneath.
Did he pee himself? Was he shot? Was the warmth his life blood?
Did he learn anything? Was the hole filled? Why did he leave his “beloved” wife and almost cheat on her with a random somewhat partner or a military man who tries his hand at botany?
The whole novel is ridiculous. The premise is great, the story seemed intriguing, but it fell flat in so many way. Many of the reviews I have read on Goodreads talk about how poetic and moving this novel was. I do not see that AT ALL. This book was tripe and fluff. It felt pretentious and clunky, the characters not particularly likeable or enthralling, and the description bloated and confusing.
I do not recommend this book to anyone. They will end up being a disappointed as I was.
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