Curses! When I know I have to review a book I try not to read a review until I’ve written mine. Imagine my chagrin when, sitting peacefully eating lunch and reading Private Eye, I found that the current issue’s victims of ‘What You Didn’t Miss Pt.94’ are William Boyd and Sebastian Faulks. The Eye’s literary pages exist only to condemn. Much is fair game, e.g. celebrity memoirs by people you’ve never heard of but the writers really like to get their blue-pencil-and-knife-wielding claws into an esteemed literary author. (For as long as I’ve been reading the magazine they’ve had it in for Martin Amis.) In this issue (1479), William Boyd’s Love is Blind is linked with Faulks’ Paris Echo, each book having the alleged fault of ‘La Surabondance de Detail’, as a Paris restaurant is amusingly named in the clever pastiche of the books.
I disagree that there can be too much detail (of the kind the writer describes) in a novel. Writers! Don’t, please, tell me ‘she was well dressed’, ‘the garden was full of bright flowers’ or ‘they ate their meal in silence’. The novelist who doesn’t describe what the lady wore, which flowers were in the garden and what the characters ate is in my opinion failing in his or her duty to the reader. There is a lot of detail in Love is Blind, for example about piano tuning, but I found it anything but boring.
The book’s hero, Brodie Moncur, comes from a large motherless family living in a bleak manse. The children (now adult) are dominated by a bullying, drunken father, who nevertheless draws large crowds to hear his hellfire sermons. Brodie is the only one to get away, by working as a piano tuner in Edinburgh (he has perfect pitch). He is sent to Paris to work in the office there and his adventures begin. After an unfair dismissal, he begins working for a virtuoso pianist known as ‘the Irish Liszt’. Unfortunately for him, he falls madly and permanently in love with a Russian woman who lives with the famous pianist and his menacing brother. The group travel Europe, spending much time in Russia until events there lead Brodie and his love Lika to wander Europe, always on the run, never feeling safe. Because of his poor health, Brodie ends up in the Andaman Islands, working for an anthropologist. No spoilers, but the ending is very sad. William Boyd has said that Brodie is ‘an innocent’ and sure enough, time and again I was thinking, ‘silly boy, can’t you see that …?’ Well written, like all Boyd’s books, I thought it was beautiful and enjoyed it.
I read this thanks to NetGalley.