The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

Recently I read The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. It was published in 2002, and I think it was also turned into a movie, but I haven’t seen that yet. I would recommend it for adults. I doubt I would have liked it as a teenager.

It’s set in 1886 and begins in London where we meet Edgar Drake, a piano tuner, and his wife, Katherine. The British War Office summons Edgar and gives him a strange commission. They ask him to travel to Burma and tune a rare Erard grand piano that is sitting in the jungle. It belongs to Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll.  Carroll is beloved and respected by most of the soldiers who have worked under him, but some of the officials in the military get irritated at the mention of Carroll and his piano. They tolerate him only because he has proved himself indispensable in furthering the expansion of the British Empire.

Edgar, with the support of his wife, decides to make the journey, and it’s after he leaves London that the book starts to get interesting. I felt that it had a slow beginning, and he doesn’t actually meet Carroll until much further into the novel. He has some strange encounters and experiences on his trip, but the book kept my attention, and I wanted to keep reading. In Burma, Edgar meets a beautiful woman who seems to be close to Anthony Carroll, but we’re never quite sure what kind of relationship she has with him. As we keep reading, we realize that Edgar is falling for her, and he becomes Odysseus-like in that he can’t go home. However, unlike Odysseus, we know he could go home, if he really wanted to.

Although the act of tuning a piano is only a small part of this novel, I loved the way that the author described Drake tuning the piano and the feelings it evoked in him. I also loved his use of classical music and sound in the imagery and plot. He gives much respect to the craft of tuning. This and his descriptions of the Burmese countryside and the Shan people are probably the best parts of the book. It’s worthy to note that this is the first novel by Daniel Mason, so I would be curious to read his other works and see how they compare.

The ending has a twist, and I’m still trying to decide what I think about this book. If you have read it, please tell me your impressions of the book. If you haven’t, I recommend it, but at the same time, I would not say it’s a “must read.” I could see how some people might not care for it at all, but I think it would be perfect for a book club because it leaves the reader with a lot of questions.

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