Monday, August 20, 2012

Relative Reads - The Piano Man's Daughter by Timothy Findley

I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.

The Piano Man's Daughter by Timothy Findley
 published 1995
 490 pages

  Synopsis from publisher:   Narrated by Charlie Kilworth, whose birth is an echo of his mother's own illegitimate beginnings, The Piano Man's Daughter is the lyrical, multilayered tale of Charlie's mother, Lily, his grandmother Ede, and their family. Lily is a woman pursued by her own demons, "making off with the matches just when the fires caught hold," "a beautiful, mad genius, first introduced to us singing in her mother's belly." It is also the tale of people who dream in songs, two Irish immigrant families facing a new and uncertain future in turn-of-the-century Toronto. Finally, it is a richly detailed tribute to a golden epoch in our history and of a generation striking the last, haunting chord of innocence.

The Piano Man's Daughter is a symphony of wonderful storytelling, unforgettable characters, and a lilting, lingering melody that plays on long after the last page has been turned.

My thoughts:

First Impression - 8/15/12

I know someone told me to read this book a long time ago - who was it? This particular copy came from my Aunt Rhoda, who hasn't led me wrong yet. So far it's just a completely lovely novel. Findley gives his story a lyrical quality that is perfect for the tale of a family of musicians. It is, in some ways, a difficult novel for me to read because much of the subject matter hits extremely close to home. Mental illness is something my family deals with every day, and Charlie's fear of passing his mother's madness on to his own children is something I can understand. The first part of the novel is primarily Ede's story, and she is a compelling character. Her strength, alongside her questioning and doubt, make her quite sympathetic. And the glimpses Findley gives us of Lily have been tantalizing, fleeting, running through the narrative just as Lily runs through her own life.

"We were always escaping, you see - escaping, or standing ready to escape; running away from her demons; trying to avoid the outcome of what had been started - making off with the matches just when the fires caught hold." (p. 6)

Second Thoughts - 8/18/12

Reading this second section of the novel has put me in mind of Jane Eyre, and specifically the madwoman in the attic. I don't mean to say that Lily is meant to represent Bertha directly, but there are definitely echoes of her life in Lily's. Findley's description of Lily's mental illness as a "whirlwind" is an interesting choice - I think it's a good way to give readers a sense of the confusion and fear that would be part and parcel of what it must be like to suffer from her type of illness. I am finding Ede less and less sympathetic as the story progresses - when I read I try to keep the time period in mind as I evaluate the characters' actions, but I am finding myself having more and more problems with the treatment of Lily she allows.

Findley's writing is excellent. I am enjoying the process of reading this novel very much. He engulfs his readers in the lives and settings of his characters, and I'm finding it increasingly difficult to tear myself away. I don't know where the story will take me next, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

Last Word - 8/20/12

Reading this novel was a very emotional experience for me. I found Lily's story to be sad, but it was really Charlie for whom I felt the most sorrow. I imagine he spent so much of his time feeling quite alone, and that was hard for me.

"In October, I had my eighth birthday. I felt as if I was now an accredited adult. Eight- and small for my age. Eight - and serious. Eight - and a man of the world. There was little I did not know about the human condition that any child can know, who has been given a loving parent and a place to stand. But I was not just any child. I had also been given silence and music - poetry -a unique religion of reverence for life - a profoundly mysterious companion and a sense of being wanted and cared for by someone whose whole concern for me could be defined in a single word: wonder. I was also given someone to decipher - someone to protect - someone to ponder. To say that I was old at eight is simply to state a truth. (p. 443)

Timothy Findley is an excellent author. His characters are round and full, real people inhabiting his pages. I expect Lily and Charlie to live with me for some time. His story is beautifully written, full of secrets and revelations. I will most definitely look for more by this author, and I highly recommend The Piano Man's Daughter.

Finished: 8/20/12
Source: aunt Rhoda
MPAA rating: PG -13 for adult situations
My rating: 8/10


Zibilee said...

This does sound excellent, and as mental illness touches my family as well, it seems like this book should be one that I seek out. I liked your various reactions to the way the story was told, your going from sympathy to a bit of anger. This was a really nice review to have read about a book that it seems I must read! Excellent job today, Elizabeth!

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