The Piano Tuner
Daniel Mason
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Buy *The Piano Tuner* online

The Piano Tuner

Daniel Mason
Knopf
Hardcover
336 pages
September 2002
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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The Piano Tuner is set in exotic Burma, deep in the heart of a distant and ancient culture. At the request of Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll, Edgar Drake is commissioned to tune a fine piano that is secreted somewhere in the Burmese jungle. Drake begins his mission with the purity of good intentions. A man possessed with esoteric pianos, he is fascinated by the intricacies of such well-crafted instruments and the temptation is too great to resist. As a result, Drake's constricted Victorian heart is awakened in a way that is so unnerving as to throw his entire way of life off balance.

The lure of ancient lands is an aphrodisiac to this congenitally shy man, often blurring the edges of reality. As Drake reaches the remote jungle destination, his experiences verge on the surreal. The British officers, the native guides and common people open a world that is both seductive and dangerous. Drake is enchanted by the lush surroundings of the colorful village where the piano is kept, trusting his own integrity to deliver him from the myriad distractions offered by the charismatic Doctor Carroll, who may have more than one agenda. Confused and conflicted by Carroll's impetuous requests, Drake attempts to follow the compass of his own conscience, secure in his prudent English values. In acting the role of the gentleman, rather than using his wits for self-preservation, Drake unwittingly positions himself as a pawn, a moveable piece in a mysterious game with no discernable rules.

For all the advantages of location as contrasted against the straight-laced Victorian mentality, the author fails to take advantage of his fertile opportunities, succumbing to dry, pedantic details, thick with precision, but lacking in passion. By contrasting Drake's Victorian constrictions against the tropical temptations of Burma, the unfamiliar longing that awakens in Edgar Drake never truly emerges, but sinks below the surface without a trace. Ever tentative, the protagonist is more of a Victorian maiden than fully fleshed male.

In the final chapter, the action suddenly accelerates and Drake is caught in the conundrum of his own illusions, desperately coping, albeit too late, with a reality that he has chosen to ignore. Other than the impetus of the last chapter, the novel reads like a travelogue, often (needlessly) as lifeless as a textbook. What might have been an adventure of discovery fails to completely engage the imagination, regardless of the opulent and mysterious Burmese landscape. Still, there are compelling aspects of this novel, where the author exhibits his ability to appreciate significant events and emotions. Mason is an author with potential. Look for substantial growth as his work matures and Mason gives full reign to his promising talent.



© 2003 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book


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