Tuning a rare Erard grand piano in the middle of the Burmese jungle sounds an unlikely topic for any novel, but that’s the reason why London piano tuner Edgar Drake is asked to travel half way around the world in “The Piano Tuner” by Daniel Mason.
The story takes place in 1886, which is at the beginning of the period of British occupation of Burma. Edgar Drake is asked to travel all the way to a remote outpost inside the Shan States* in Burma to repair and retune the piano, which was shipped out by the British military at the request of Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll.
The Surgeon-Major, referred to as ‘The Doctor’, has had much success in making peace with the inhabitants of the Shan States, but his methods have aroused suspicion.
Drake’s voyage is a long and eventful one and all the while he becomes entranced by the letters from the Surgeon-Major and puzzled as to why very little information has reached him about what is exactly wrong with the piano.
On the last stage of the journey he is accompanied by Khin Myo, an enchanting and mysterious woman, whose relationship with the The Doctor is difficult to make out. Once he is there, he sets to work on the piano, but becomes even more mystified by the surgeon-major, who seems to disappear for two or three days at a time, but never explains where he is going.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I was impressed by the amount of research the author must have undertaken about the history of the area and the various warring factions, not to mention the tuning of pianos.
Whilst I wouldn’t describe it as a thriller (and it doesn’t claim to be), this adventure is very absorbing and certainly has its moments. (At the end of the book, five pages of author’s notes explain what is fictional and what are the true facts on which the story is based).
Have you ever thought of reading as a way to ‘read yourself well’? Well, one publisher, Vintage, has compiled a list of books under the title ‘Shelf Help’. The list offers a title a month, designed to focus on different areas of mental, spiritual and physical well-being as a ‘literary alternative to self help books.’
The series of books include “Why be Happy when you could be Normal” by Jeanette Winterson (this month’s title), “Nature Cure” by Richard Mabey (April), “Heartbreak Hotel “ by Deborah Moggach (July) and in November “Human Traces” by Sebastian Faulks.
This last title is one I’ve recently read myself, but I wouldn’t exactly describe it as a therapeutic book.
For a start it is over 600 pages (paperback edition) and follows the lives and careers of two men who devote their lives to understanding how the mind works and possible ways of curing certain mental conditions.
Set in the 1870s, it’s the story of two ambitious boys from different backgrounds: Jacques Rebiere, who has a mentally handicapped brother and Thomas Midwinter.
The book follows their friendship, their marriages and their studies and the sanatorium they establish in Europe.
The book sometimes goes into quite extensive detail. Maybe I’m not the person to judge, but possibly different people will derive different benefits from this book, so I won’t dispute the ‘therapeutic’ potential of the story.
I was particularly intrigued by a couple of local library events in a series “Meet the Animals from White Post Farm.” At Mansfield Woodhouse on 18th February and at Forest Town Library on 20th representatives from the White Post Farm Park will be bringing along a selection of animals from the farm park, which can be petted and touched.
Just in case you are wondering if there will be donkeys, llamas etc. clomping around the library, be reassured that the sort of animals they will bring will be smaller - snakes, tarantulas, geckos, giant snails and rats! Nothing to worry about.
For more details go to the Nottinghamshire Libraries website.