The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason


😐 😐

Piano tuner Edgar Blake specializes in Erard pianos, a French make. One day in 1886, he receives a strange request from the War Office – to go to Mae Lwin, a small colonial outpost in Burma, to tune the Erard of the mysterious Doctor Anthony Carroll who is trying to negotiate peace between warring factions in the country. But who is Dr Carroll? There are so many conflicting stories about him, not least the one of him demanding that the War Office provide him first with a valuable grand piano and then with a specialist to tune it…

Perhaps if I hadn’t read Heart of Darkness I would have thought this story was interesting and original. However, I have, so I didn’t. The major differences are that Heart of Darkness is indeed original, is wonderfully written, and isn’t padded out with a zillion words of extraneous description and potted history of the country presented in the form of army reports. The other major difference is that Kurtz (the mystery man in Heart of Darkness) is indeed mysterious and enigmatic, and is a metaphor for the darkness of colonialism and how it corrupts the coloniser as much as the colonised; whereas Carroll isn’t. Lastly, Heart of Darkness ends believably and memorably; this one doesn’t.

I admit I skimmed the last 30%, so bored was I by that stage by the endless descriptions – it was like being forced to look at the three hundred photos someone has brought back from a holiday, all of them of trees. (This actually happened to me on one occasion – three hundred is not an exaggeration – and I thought I might actually die of boredom, or be forced to commit murder to make it stop. This book made me feel the same way.) It reads as if Mason spent a great holiday in Burma and wanted to share every impression of the country, regardless of relevance, and tacked on a lot of historical facts that he’d gleaned, perhaps from a guide book, perhaps from wikipedia, to try to turn it into a novel. And then there are the details about how to tune a piano.

Yep. That’s about all I have to say about this one.

Amazon UK Link

32 thoughts on “The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

  1. It sounds as though this definitely struck a wrong note with you, FictionFan. You make a really strong point about including too much detail in a novel. There is a balance between giving the reader important background information and setting the scene, and padding the book. It’s not easy to strike that balance, but when one doesn’t… At any rate, my TBR is at least spared…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, a whole sonata-full of wrong notes! Oh dear, the padding in this was extreme – there were points where I felt I’d actually forgotten what the story was supposed to be about because it had been so long since it last progressed. A real disappointment – I had high expectations for this one. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  2. At least your review is entertaining! Even the details on tuning a piano would be out of date. I was just thinking this morning about how my piano needs tuning, but my tuner died 😱 and it’s hard to find a new one. In latter years he used an iPod with some kind of extra equipment rather than an old fashioned tuning fork. It was a much quicker process. (and less painful for my ears) There. Have I bored you some more?? 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, that was much more interesting than the details in this book – you didn’t tell me about how to stop the wood warping in tropical climates, or how to soak the leather bits that cover the hammers! Maybe that’s just on Erards though… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, good to know. I must say that I’ve been reluctant to get on with reading this – despite being a pianist myself andy partner passing a copy on to me: something about the blurb sounding familiar (no, not from the Conrad, but interesting that you should draw attention to that) but because I must have heard a synopsis of the plot when this first came out twenty years ago. Disappointing, but thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I expected to enjoy it much more because I’d read and loved a recent collection of stories from him, but while the writing in this one is good, it’s so derivative and so over-padded with description! Mind you, as usual many people loved it… 🤷‍♂️

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Gee, not exactly one of your favorites, huh?! I’m surprised you trudged through this — you were hoping it would get better, right?? What a disappointment. I’ve had the “pleasure” of hearing our piano being tuned, and I can’t imagine anybody writing a book about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved his short story collection too, which was written several years after this, so clearly he has developed considerably in the interim! His writing is just as good in this, but the originality isn’t there and it’s so over padded with description! I’ll still be looking forward to reading anything new he produces though… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh what a shame. And speaking of looking at vacation photos – I hate that! Luckily with social media that seems to happen less, but when ppl send me vacation photos with no people in them (in my opinion, the worst, I always want to see people in photos, it makes it much more interesting and adds perspective!) I find it so shockingly boring to look at other ppl’s vacation photos. Why don’t people understand that???

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I know! My sister was the worst for that. She was a good photographer but never included people, so you got millions of shots of very similar scenery. Used to drive me crazy! Mind you, she could occasionally be persuaded to take lovely pics of our various pets… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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