#CBR8 Review #15

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

When I was in college, my English Department had two annual traditions: the beginning of the year welcome-back-brunch hosted by the faculty; and Yankee Book Swap in the winter. Basically, it’s Yankee Swap with books. Or White Elephant, or Nasty Christmas, whatever you and The Office call it.


But still. Yankee Swap. Just. With. Books.

That means there are books people fight fiercely over (one year it was Suite Francaise, another The Namesake, I heard this year it was Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On), and others that are total wildcards. Nine years ago, when it was my turn, I saw a book wrapped in a Matthew McConaughey ad, and I was intrigued (this was before McConaughey revealed that he didn’t wear deodorant and wanted to smell like a man. Dealbreaker). I unwrapped to reveal Daniel Mason’s The Piano Tuner, a book which moved to grad school, and then two different apartments with my spouse before I finally read it.

[Sidenote: Marie Kondo is a fricking genius, you guys. I am finally seeing all the things I can get rid of, simply because they DON’T SPARK THAT JOY]

As you can guess, I did not actually like this book. In fact, I counted down the pages until I could officially finish and count it as another Goodwill treasure (if I’m tallying correctly, I’ve already earmarked 3 for giveaway! Hooray!). It received a lot of wildly loving or wildly hating reviews on Goodreads, so let me explain my one-star review, my first for CBR8.

Edgar Drake is a shy, middle-aged piano tuner, sent to Burma on commission of the British Empire to tune a rare Erard piano owned by an eccentric army surgeon deep in the northern parts of Burma. What he finds there is much more shocking than…

Honestly, no. I felt this very telegraphed Heart of Darkness setup ALL THROUGHOUT THE BOOK, and there was no payoff. Like, none. The writing is beautiful but full of eloquent nothings and longings that ten-year-olds would have. The pacing is poor and haphazard, with about 250 pages of nothing and about 10 pages of breakneck action followed by inexplicable plot twists. Did I mention this is a C-level Heart of Darkness? Because that is my number one reason for disliking the book. Conrad was and is a genius. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but it does not an excellent read make. This was not a worthwhile read, and even the history parts (British occupation in Burma) could not make up for the poor plotting and pacing and characterization issues that plagued the novel.


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