Thursday, November 15, 2012

Relative Reads - The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

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 Tuner by Daniel Mason
published 2002
320 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

In October 1886, Edgar Drake receives a strange request from the British War Office: he must leave his wife and his quiet life in London to travel to the jungles of Burma, where a rare Erard grand piano is in need of repair. The piano belongs to an army surgeon-major whose unorthodox peacemaking methods — poetry, medicine, and now music — have brought a tentative quiet to the southern Shan States but have elicited questions from his superiors.

On his journey through Europe, the Red Sea, India, and into Burma, Edgar meets soldiers, mystics, bandits, and tale-spinners, as well as an enchanting woman as elusive as the surgeon-major. And at the doctor's fort on a remote Burmese river, Edgar encounters a world more mysterious and dangerous than he ever could have imagined.

My thoughts:

First Impression - 10/28/12

So. I am feeling somewhat ambivalent toward this novel right now. On the one hand, the premise is quite interesting, and I have a lot of interest in this part of the world. My Grandpa was stationed in Burma during WWII, and it's geography and history are ripe for fictionalization. The author's writing is quite lovely, and there are times that I re-read paragraphs just to take in his words a second time. I loved the novel's first line -

"In the fleeting seconds of final memory, the image that will become Burma is the sun and a woman's parasol."

There is so much imagery and promise in that line, that I am inclined to read the novel just to see if that promise is met.

But I am SO annoyed with the way the author presents dialogue. No punctuation, no line breaks, just wordsandwordsandwords, occasionally separated by a comma, then more words. No indication of who is speaking or when the character changes. As in this example -

"It isn't that, I don't want you to change your mind. You want me to go. I don't want you to go, but at the same time, I know you should go, I have been expecting this. You have been expecting an out-of-tune Erard in Burma? Not Burma, this, something different, It is a lovely idea, to use music to bring about peace, I wonder what songs you will play there." (p.35)

And there are sentences, almost always at the ends of chapters, that are either the most obvious red herrings in the world, or else so much foreshadowing that I already know what is going to happen. And these two little irritations jar me out of the flow of the novel, because everything else is so good, that they just stand out like sore thumbs. Sigh. But I am going to press on, and hopefully it will get better or I will decide I don't care.

Second Thoughts - 11/6/12

Something about this novel is just dragging for me - I think it's fair to say that it is not a terribly plot-driven novel, as it took us over half of the book to finally get to Burma. I still think the author's writing is lovely in many places, and his descriptions of the geography and setting paint quite vivid pictures for me as I'm reading. I also feel like I am learning a great deal - the author's description of tuning a piano was fascinating, and I've been playing the piano for 30+ years.  I do feel like the pace has picked up slightly now that we have actually (finally) arrived at the piano, but I don't know if it is enough to fully sell me on the book.

Last Word - 11/9/12

I think I would have liked this book better if the author had chosen a specific topic and written some nonfiction. I think he has great talent as a writer, but his story did not draw me in. The parts of this novel that I enjoyed the most were the times that he spent a significant amount of time explaining something - the intricacies of tuning a piano, or the complicated history of the Burmese war lords. The story itself just didn't feel developed enough - I kept getting the feeling that the author either didn't care enough, or hadn't developed the characters enough in his own mind to really bring them alive on the page.

And there was the weird dialogue thing throughout the novel which never did stop irritating me. I understand that authors chose that method at times to illustrate some type of point, but this author's point was never clear to me, and it just seemed lazy.

In summary - talented author, disappointing story. If you have an interest in this time period, or the location, or piano tuning, you will find interesting information, but I can't recommend it as a great novel. In this instance, my mom and I definitely do not agree.

Finished: 11/8/12
Source: loan from my mom
MPAA rating: PG for some danger and allusions to adult situations
My rating: 6/10


Subh said...

nice post .

Bybee said...

I totally agree with you about this novel! Annoying!