The Piano Teacher

The cover and title of this work have fascinated me from the first.  It taunted me with the idea of purchasing from that first moment, a seeming prized tome to rest amongst my collection of varied works.  If it had not been for my rather peasant like attitude of avoiding books that seemed to be hyped everywhere and, instead, opting to purchase the ones not on the large front displays, I would have done so.  I am very, very, very glad I didn’t give in and purchase it.  This, along with Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, was loaned to me by a friend.  Between the library and friends who read I must say I have been very lucky in my lack of bad purchases these last several months.  But, alas, this doesn’t tell you much beyond what more than likely is going to be an unfavorable review.  Without much further adieu I offer you the synopsis taken directly from the back cover:

In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls passionately in love with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite.  But their affair is threatened by the invasion of the Japaneses as World War II overwhelms their lives.

Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong and is hired by the walthy Chen family as their daughter’s piano teacher.  Seduced by the colony’sheady social life, she soon begins an affair…only to discover that her lover is hiding a devastating past.  As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine, impossible choices emerg – between love and safety, courage and survival, the present, and, above all, the past.

It sounds so dramatic!  And it is.  To gain some ground in a more positive direction I will say the prose is, for the most part, quite exemplary.  The details of Hong Kong, the life within it and even the horrors of it as the Japanese invaded and conquered, made you feel the world in a way few other authors I have read can do.  Lee is a very talented author, to be sure, and it will be very interesting to see what she comes out with next.

I probably won’t buy it either, but will not completely eschew the idea of reading it should the opportunity permit.  For all intents and purposes I was expecting literature with this book.  The style is what one associates with literary fiction, and yet with its cliff-hanger endings and small chapters it made me think of Dan Brown.  This is not to diminish Dan Brown’s style, it’s fun and functional – certainly two things I want in popular fiction,  but these are not characteristics I associate with the writing in literary fiction.  Several times Lee overplays her hand, a seeming intent of being clever (if I can pick out the INTENT of being clever in this kind of work I am not a happy reader), and deliberately skips over the information the reader is built up to wanting.  Yeah for suspense, boo for execution. In the scene I was thinking of the reader is brought to lunch with two English ladies, a story is going to be told that will illuminate the reader as to what happened in 1943, the story begins… Then the lunch is over and Claire is reflecting upon the story without thinking about the specifics.  I kid you not.  THAT’S how it was handled.

Do we find out?  Yes.  Do we find out after a vague and rather awkward confrontation is had that further doesn’t illuminate us?  You betcha!  Go ahead and reread that line – it wasn’t a typo.  The poor execution that runs rampant through the last third of the book had me wondering at the editing or even the marketing of this book.  Style wise that entire last 75 pages or so are far more comparable to Brown, Sparks and the like (except the noted lack of sex that is skipped over with something akin to a kiss followed by “Afterward…”) than others in the literary fiction world.

Truth be told – I felt betrayed.  I love historical fiction, literary fiction and books that take place in areas of the world I’ve never been but hunger to experience, and I read this book thinking I would get all of that.  In the end it boiled down to a very elaborate soap opera plot whose ending was all too obvious in both execution and resolution.  It’s a quick read with some beautiful moments, but otherwise it simply isn’t worth the price of admission.

Anyone else read this book?  What did you think?

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7 responses to “The Piano Teacher

  • Joanne

    I haven’t read this book. Interesting how you sometimes see the author’s intent at being clever. To me, seeing the author’s hand at any time in a novel is a no-no, making the story and its authenticity lose credibility.

    • kimberlyloomis

      I’m totally with you, Joanne. I want the story and, of course, as stories go we’re going to get the author’s voice. But that voice should be indistinguishable within the print before us. Hmmm… Hope I put that well.

  • Rowenna

    I know exactly how you feel! I, too, was entranced by the blurb and the elegant cover…but got it from the library before I broke down and bought it. So glad I only had it on loan–I felt as though Lee really wanted to tell the story of Will and Trudy, and didn’t necessarily chose the best lens to tell it through, throwing Claire in. I did enjoy the new perspective on WWII that I hadn’t learned much about before, and am curious to see what Lee does next. I reviewed this on my blog way back in May….http://hyalineprosaic.blogspot.com/2010/05/l-is-for.html if you’re interested in more of my rambling about it 🙂

    • kimberlyloomis

      I, too, felt like Claire was a rather unnecessary addition to the story! There are so many angles to WWII and yet I only learned of one which lacked a great amount of truth to boot so this story was wonderful in that regard. I was enchanted by Hong Kong, learning about its social composition as well as how it weathered the storm of war and to her credit Lee did that part remarkably well. I’ll definitely head over to your blog to check out your review in a few minutes. Thanks for including the link! 🙂

  • Jemi Fraser

    It’s not the style of book I normally pick up. Too bad it was disappointing.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Jemi – Agreed. I love books that can teach me something new about history or another culture, just wish the last portions of the book didn’t happen.

  • Helen Ginger

    I haven’t read the book, and most likely won’t after reading this review. It, for sure, doesn’t sound like my kind of book. Like you, I like fast-paced thrillers and I also like literary books. But this one sounds rather like a mish-mash of the two.

    Straight From Hel

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