Friday, January 26, 2007

The Piano Tuner

A book with a title after my own heart by Pascal Mercier, and not just because it's three days before my own piano tuner cometh. Actually it's only in German - 'Der Klavierstimmer' - does not seem to have been translated into English, nor do any of his other books, or amazon would sell them.

It's quite a fat paperback, with quite a lot of bang for the buck (high word count). Starts very slowly - if I had not been trapped somewhere without anything else to read, I might have put it down again after the first 20 or 30 pages. As I went on, it became less and less putdownable.

Pascal Mercier is a Swiss (and a swish) professor of philosophy living in Berlin, who writes books, not too many of them, in his spare time. Unlike that other heavyweight professor, Alexander McCall Smith who does quite easy reading with a sprinkling of philosophy, Mercier's books are quite heavy (without any obvious philosophy references) - though slightly easier than those by Orhan Pamuk (or is it just because this book is set in a society more familiar to me?).

The book is about a Swiss piano tuner, living in Berlin (no! really?), who works for Steinway (odd bit of product placement here, no?) and who is accused of shooting dead an opera singer in mid-performance. His twin adult children, Patrice and Patricia, who had run away from home after a brief incestuous moment, try to reconstruct what lead to the crime. Each fills a series of exercise books of their thoughts and recollections of their own lives and their parents lives, and these are alternated in the book, so that one constantly sees the same situation from two different understandings. Thankfully, though, the exercise books join up the story line very well.

The beginning is heavy-going, but the reader really does get drawn in, often guessing in advance of what might have happened, and reading on in an appalled and fascinated way to see when Patrice or Patricia will work it out, too. Some events are hinted at, described from a child's understanding, which is then reviewed later.

For me there is an interesting link - the twin's grandmother was a ballerina of Georgian extraction, who researched the history of ballet, also coming across the story of Filippo and Marie Taglioni, a choreographer and his ballerina daughter. Filippo choreographed 'La Sylphide' which I saw in Kiev only a month or so ago, in the same choreography.

Very recommendable for those who like a rather (much) more demanding, much subtler, almost 'detective novel' - and who can read German.