July 2024
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Review: The Piano Teacher, Janice Y.K. Lee

Over a span of ten years in Hong Kong, Will Truesdale falls in love with one woman before World War II and has an affair with another one after.  When he arrives in society, he meets Trudi Canavan, an enigmatic, enchanting woman who somehow chooses him to take under her wing and they begin a passionate love affair.  At the other end of the scale we have Claire Pendleton, a married piano teacher who generally reminded me of a mouse, and who can’t get enough of Will.  It seems that Claire is merely a foil to get us to what happened with Will and Trudi during the war, which is where this story really lies.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really enjoy this book much.  It’s written in a spare style which I like very much and I thought the story was intriguing.  I even grew to like Trudi over the period of the novel, though I didn’t at the beginning.  I think the problem, however, was that Claire bothered me.  Despite the fact that she steals from her employers and carries on an affair behind her husband’s back, she seemed spineless to me.  To be honest, I didn’t like post-war Will either.  They seemed empty, going through the motions to get the author’s plot where it was going by that point.  The best parts were certainly those featured after the start of the war and the occupation of Hong Kong, at which point the novel develops into a very moving, human story about the unfortunate power of war.

Is it worth reading?  Yes, but I really wish that the author had not chosen the dual narratives.  They allow us to see the effects of the war, but it could have been done with someone more interesting than Claire, characters who had personality, or at least someone I could relate to in some way.  Personal preference, and I’m sorry that such a thing marred my enjoyment of what could otherwise have been a stunning book.

Buy The Piano Teacher: A Novel on Amazon.


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