“Edgar Drake, Piano Tuner, Erards-a-Speciality, put the letter down on his desk. An 1840 grand is beautiful, he thought, and he folded the letter gently and slid it into his coat pocket. And Burma is far.”
This bizarre but well-dreamt tale of a timid piano tuner who is summoned into the service of His Majesty in order to travel to Burma and tune a piano for an enigmatic and eccentric British officer in the Shan States of Burma carries the reader from 19th century London (remarkably changed and yet the same as today), through the Red Sea, past India and into Burma. Once there, he is captivated by the fragile peace, the Doctor’s true motives, and the beautiful woman who travels at his side…
For the first 250 pages, this was an excellent novel. Mason sets up the trip well – the disorganised piano tuner, his patient wife a little nervous about his departure, the odd visits to the War Office – and then the epic journey on sea and land, punctuated by letters from the Doctor whose piano he will tune. Drake is an odd, timid character, who slowly flowers under the hot Burmese sun. The mix of Carroll, Khin Myo and Drake makes for 100 pages of clever and sensitive dialogue once Drake reaches Mae Lwin. The adventures of getting the piano away on a raft and the various sojourns into the nearby wilderness are funny and richly descriptive respectively.
The end of the book put me right off it – much like The Great Gatsby, the ending felt rushed and tacked on a bit disjointedly. Not dissimilar to Dances with Wolves, once the conversion has happened, the attempts to go back go badly. In addition, we are treated to long passages explaining the historical context, the necessity of which I’m not disputing, but they were fairly dry.
Maybe best to stay away from this one unless you’re a big fan of the period? If you’ve read this and disagree with my half-and-half verdict, I’d be very interested to hear it in the comments below.
Copy from unknown source
Publisher: Picador, 348 pages (paperback)
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