Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
Published in America by Alfred A Knopf in 2002.

Where to buy this book:

How I got this book:
Swapped for at a campsite book exchange

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

White. Like a clean piece of paper, like uncarved ivory, all is white when the story begins.

One misty London afternoon in 1886, piano tuner Edgar Drake receives an unusual request from the War Office: he must leave his quiet life and travel to the jungles of Burma to repair a rare grand piano owned by an enigmatic army surgeon. So begins an extraordinary journey across Europe, the Red Sea, India and onwards, accompanied by an enchanting yet elusive woman. Edgar is at first captivated, then unnerved, as he begins to question the true motive behind his summons and whether he will return home unchanged to the wife who awaits him. . .

The Piano Tuner is set in 1880s England and Burma (Myanmar). Our protagonist, a shy London piano tuner named Edgar Drake unexpectedly receives a War Office request to travel many hundreds of miles in order to tune a rare piano. He will be paid generously with a year's income for what is planned to be a three month commission. Despite his initial reservations, he decides to make the journey - his first outside of England.

I enjoyed Mason's writing when he describes the fabulous journey. Drake boards steamships and trains, travels through India as well as Burma, and Mason evokes the atmospheres, sights and sounds, colours and scents in wonderful detail. The mission itself does seem ludicrous, but having already read Giles Foden's factual account of the British Army's ship transportation through the Congo not so many years later, sending a piano tuner through Asia is simple by comparison!

The Piano Tuner does rely heavily upon exposition however and I was disappointed at how much this slowed the pace. Drake is taught Anglo-Burmese war history through lengthy War Office briefing documents which we also get to read. The information is dry and, while kind of relevant, isn't needed in such depth. The same could be said of the piano information dumps - a little is interesting, a long diversion is too distracting. Characters are often deliberately vague which made it difficult for me to maintain interest in their plight and I thought the ending was unnecessarily rushed. I came away from this book feeling it owed much of its overall story arc to Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness - which I am now tempted to revisit - but without that classic's power.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Daniel Mason / Historical fiction / Books from America

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