It is nine years since I read 'Any Human Heart' by William Boyd and strangely, despite how much I loved that book, I have not managed to read anything else by him. 'Love is Blind' is his most recent novel that the library kindly supplied for me. It tells the story of Brodie and his obsessive love for Lika Blum. Brodie is a piano tuner for an Edinburgh piano manufacturer and the story follows his life and career as he moves to Paris and tries to expand the business by sponsoring significant pianists on their concert tours. It is in this way that he meets Lika, and the Kilbarron brothers, John the pianist and Malachi, his 'manager'. They begin an affair that leads eventually to a life on the run from the vengeful Malachi. I liked it in the same way as 'Any Human Heart' because you allow yourself to become attached to Brodie, to care about his fortunes, in spite of the sometimes stupid decisions he takes. Unlike 'Any Human Heart' however the timescale is much shorter, encompassing a mere decade rather than a lifetime, and focussing on the doomed love affair. The story is clever and engaging because it is only looking back that you see how events are linked and the characters are only partially responsible for or in control of their own destiny. Brodie shares a song with Lika, and this piece of music plays a significant role in the unfolding events. Here is the seemingly innocuous conversation:
"He felt a hand come to rest softly on his shoulder and turned to find Lika standing there, a tear running down one cheek, wordless.
Brodie jumped to his feet. 'Lika! My God, is everything all right?'
'That music. That tune ...' she said, wonderingly. 'What is it? I heard it. I was standing in the doorway, listening - and it made me cry. Look.' She wiped her tears away, smiling. 'How strange. It was like an instinct, a reflex. I heard you playing and the next thing I knew my eyes were full of tears.'
Brodie explained. 'It's a folk song from Scotland. My mother used to sing it to me when i was young. I've changed it a bit - but I use it when I'm tuning. At the end, you know, just to see if everything's fine. If the piano's ready.'
'But it's beautiful. Play it again, will you?'
'Of course.'Brodie sat down and played the song through, all two minutes of it.
'What's it called?'
'It's called 'My Bonny Boy'.' He said the title in English and translated it. Mon beau garçon. 'There are words to the song - just three verses.'
Lika frowned. 'It's most extraordinary. There's one bit of it - one transition. Is it a key change? It makes me want to cry, instantly. How can that happen?'
Then they heard the front door open and Kilbarron appeared, having handed his hat and coat to the manservant.
'Well, help, hello,' he said. 'All done, Master Brodie?' He looked at Lika. 'Are you well, my sweet?'
Lika, in some excitement, explained about the effect Brodie's folk song had had on her. A completely new, unheard piece of music that seemed to provoke a direct attack in her tear ducts.
'Good Lord above. What miraculous music is that?'
Brodie recounted the story once more. 'It's just an old Scottish folk song that I've adapted,' he added. Kilbarron was intrigued and asked him to play it again. So Brodie sat down at the piano and ran through the song once more, Kilbarron listening intently.
'See! There!' Lika exclaimed. 'That moment, those few bars. Don't you feel it? So much emotion.'
'I do - in a way,' Kilbarron said and asked Brodie to play it again.
'Yes,' he said when Brodie had finished. 'It's very simple but effective. An interrupted cadence on a rising scale - accented passing notes. Play it again if you will, Brodie, old man.'
Brodie did so.
'You expect the tonic, you see. Every instinct is telling you which way the music will go,' Kilbarron said, almost to himself. 'But it's unresolved - that's where the emotion springs from.' He smiled. 'An old trick. But old tricks are the best.'
He budged Brodie away from the piano and sat down at the stool and played the song himself." (p.107-8)
A much more intellectual review of the book is available on the Guardian, including an analysis of the 'Chekhov' links, of which I was entirely oblivious, so there you go. Despite his dearth of women characters, the fact that even Lika is fairly 'mysterious', a technique used to save having to make her more than a one dimensional 'beautiful opera singer', I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
Ian McEwan's 'Nutshell' and a novella from Kosovo still waiting to be reviewed, I will get back on track soon.