Daniel Mason's debut novel, The Piano Tuner
, is the mesmerizing story of Edgar Drake, commissioned by the British War Office in 1886 to travel to hostile Burma to repair a rare Erard grand piano vital to the Crown's strategic interests. Eccentric Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll has brokered peace with local warlords primarily through music, a free medical clinic, and the "powers" of common scientific instruments, much to the dismay of warmongering officers suspect of such unorthodox methods. Drake is an introspective, well-mannered soul who, once there, falls in love with Burma and stays long past the piano-fixing to aid Carroll's political agenda. Drake's arduous journey to reach the outpost, however, takes far too long (nearly half the book) and the plotting is rather heavy-handed at times (one night, Drake learns of a mysterious "Man with One Story" who rarely speaks, and the very next morning the Man tells all to Drake). The story is ambitious, the language florid and sure to please, but the dialogue and melodrama are sometimes tedious. While out on the town with Carroll's love interest, Khin Myo (who enchants Drake), Mason offers the townspersons' view of Drake:
It is only natural that a guest be treated with hospitality, the quiet man who has come to mend the singing elephant is shy, and walks with the posture of one who is unsure of the world, we too would keep him company to make him feel welcome, but we do not speak English.... They say he is one of the kind of men who has dreams, but tells no one.
Drake's complexity is thin; perhaps the beauty of Burma takes over any real need for introspection. Despite these quibbles, The Piano Tuner
is a memorable achievement. --Michael Ferch
From Publishers Weekly
Twenty-six-year-old Mason has penned a satisfying, if at times rather slow, debut historical. Edgar Drake lives a quiet life in late 19th-century London as a tuner of rare pianos. When he's summoned to Burma to repair the instrument of an eccentric major, Anthony Carroll, Edgar bids his wife good-bye and begins the months-long journey east. The first half of the book details his trip, and while Mason's descriptions of the steamships and trains of Europe and India are entertaining, the narrative tends to drag; Edgar is the only real character readers have met, and any conflicts he might encounter are unclear. Things pick up when Edgar meets the unconventional Carroll, who has built a paradise of sorts in the Burmese jungle. Edgar ably tunes the piano, but this turns out to be the least of his duties, as Carroll seeks his services on a mission to make peace between the British and the local Shan people. During his stay at Carroll's camp, Edgar falls for a local beauty, learns to appreciate the magnificence of Burma's landscape and customs and realizes the absurdity of the war between the British and the Burmese. While Mason's writing smoothly evokes Burma's beauty, and the idea that music can foster peace is compelling, his work features so many familiar literary pieces-the nerdy Englishman; the steamy locale; the unjust war; the surprisingly cultured locals-that readers may find themselves wishing they were turning the pages of Orwell's Burmese Days or E.M. Forster's A Passage to India instead.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.