Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book 93: The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

I admit, the only reason I picked this up is because I was so excited to be in a bookstore stocked full of books in English for the first time in months but knew that I had to watch myself because the pound is a lot more expensive than the dollar. As a result, I stuck to books that were in the buy two, get one free section, or marked half off like this one. Also since I was traveling with Ryanair, I was only allowed one carry on, which included my purse, so there was no way to get all the books back if I'd let myself go wild.

The title character is Clare, a young woman who has just moved to Hong Kong with her new husband, Martin. She is from a rural and unexciting background and quickly finds herself overwhelmed and amazed by the society surrounding her in Hong Kong. She starts teaching the piano to a young Chinese girl, Locket Chen. The Chens have a man named Will Truesdale employed as their driver, though he keeps odd hours. Will has been in the area since 1941 (it is now 1952). The first part of the novel flashes back between Clare's perspective in 1952 and Will's in 1941. Needless to say, the two start to have an affair but Will has become a rather mysterious and introverted person. When he first arrived, he quickly became involved with Trudy Liang, a cousin of Melody Chen (Locket's mother).

The novel really didn't pick up for me until the second part, which discusses Will's experiences in the camp established by the Japanese for foreign citizens. Since the novel is portrayed from Will's perspective, I feel like he occasionally does Trudy an injustice in her portrayal, especially in the beginning when she just seemed like a floating party girl. By the end, I found her much more likable, but it took me a while to warm up to her, or even really see much of a personality there beyond glamorous, rich and spoiled - and yet, he was completely in love with her.

Trudy, of course, is no longer around, and the question is what happened to her. The third part deals with Will's motivations for taking the jobs he has and staying around Hong Kong. Without Trudy, he has become an empty shell of a man with only one goal in mind, and once that has been accomplished, it is questionable what else he has left to live for. All the English characters seem just a bit xenophobic or racist at various points, either based on ignorance or an inability and unwillingness to learn about the culture of the country they are living in.

Overall, it was a slow start but the middle section was rather strong, and addressed something of which I had no previous knowledge. Still, the overall plot isn't exactly too original - the man that loses his love and becomes an empty shell, full of regret and wishing for revenge; the young, innocent new wife who married out of convenience, never hoping for more, suddenly thrust into new surroundings, and trying to find herself . . .

No comments: