Review: The Piano Tuner

Lovely.  Lovely.  Lovely.

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason is a quiet story that is written with great affection and stunning character development.  It follows the story of British Piano Tuner Edgar Drake, who, in 1886, is sent to the jungles of Burma to tune an Erard Grand.  A misplaced instrument, no?

Goodreads Summary:

In 1886 a shy, middle-aged piano tuner named Edgar Drake receives an unusual commission from the British War Office: to travel to the remote jungles of northeast Burma and there repair a rare piano belonging to an eccentric army surgeon who has proven mysteriously indispensable to the imperial design. From this irresistible beginning, The Piano Tuner launches its protagonist into a world of seductive loveliness and nightmarish intrigue. And as he follows Drake’s journey, Mason dazzles readers with his erudition, moves them with his vibrantly rendered characters, and enmeshes them in the unbreakable spell of his storytelling.

From the moment this audio book began, I was captivated.  Firstly, hats off to the brilliant Graeme Malcolm, who shares the book with such grace and enthusiasm that the result is nothing short of melodious.  He masterfully represents each character, communicating their personalities with his dramatic inflection and tone.  There’s no question that I’ll be seeking Malcolm’s name the next time I’m looking for audio.

As for Daniel Mason’s story, it was heartwarming.  Edgar Drake’s soft-spoken Piano Tuner manages to discover himself in the jungles of Burma, while tuning a piano that just seems so oddly placed.  Why is the piano there?  Why does the army surgeon require its presence?  To help keep peace?  As a conversation starter?  To woo the jungle’s inhabitants?  Does the surgeon even play?

While these questions are answered, the story will wash over you.  The Indian setting will unfold in front of your eyes, and I promise that you’ll love what you see.  The characters are not loud.  They’re not over the top.  They’re polite, sophisticated, and yet, are unquestionably complex.

The Doctor walked across the floor to the windows and opened them.  Outside, the view spilled out over the camp, to the Salween drifting past, dark and brown.  The piano was covered by a blanket made of the same material he had seen on many of the women, decorated with thin multicolored lines.  The Doctor removed it with a flourish.  ‘Here it is, Mr. Drake.’

I don’t believe that there was a character in this story that I did not enjoy.  Mr. Drake and the Doctor were unquestionably my favorites, with their complex natures and how they would wink at their true selves.  But all of the people who keep this story going were fascinating, and beautifully drawn.  I still recall each one vividly.

My only disappointment, if you could call it that, would be how the story closed.  While I understand why Daniel Mason chose that particular path, it broke my heart nevertheless.

Sadness aside, a very enthusiastic 4 stars for The Piano Tuner, for a wonderful story that has left an indelible mark on my memory.  Once you finish the book, you’ll have this odd feeling that you were actually there too.

1840 Erard Grand – try to picture its beauty surrounded by a jungle setting.  ;)