Romance, deceit, revenge, missed opportunities, and piano-tuning are the central themes of an immersive new novel from a much-praised British writer.
After 14 novels and many literary prizes, Boyd’s (Sweet Caress, 2016, etc.) storytelling abilities are beyond dispute and are clearly on display in this latest tale that follows its hero, Brodie Moncur, on a restless journey from Scotland to Europe and beyond as the 19th century shades into the 20th. One of 14 children (nine living) born to a bruising Scottish preacher, Brodie is blessed with perfect pitch, a gift which frees him from his oppressive home and leads to work at the expanding Channon piano company in Edinburgh. Promoted to a post at the new Paris showroom, Brodie suggests that the company widen its name recognition by giving an instrument to a famous concert pianist, which is how he comes to meet John Kilbarron, “the Irish Liszt,” and his lovely Russian girlfriend, Lika. It’s Brodie’s all-consuming love for Lika which now propels the story forward, as he loses his job at Channon’s (falsely accused of embezzlement) and joins Kilbarron and his entourage on a luxurious sponsored trip to pre-revolutionary Russia. Layers of secrecy are both laid down and exposed as Brodie and Lika pursue a secret affair, yet Lika remains a shadowy figure, partly intentionally, partly through Boyd’s failure to fully flesh her out. This and Brodie’s desultory progress in life leave a sense of hollowness at the core of the story, although Boyd’s tale-spinning is never less than enjoyable, dotted as it is with odd plot turns and much engaging detail. Its conclusion is perhaps the oddest turn of all, a departure that leaves the reader hungry for answers to some questions, especially those relating to Brodie’s family, that are left dangling.
All for Love or The Road Not Taken might have served as alternate titles for this largely good-humored, not especially deep-digging, quality entertainment.