In 1887 Edgar Drake, a Londoner who tunes Erard grands, is recruited by the War Office to travel to the Burmese frontiers of the British Empire to tune a piano for Dr Anthony Carroll, a British Officer who commands a remote outpost.
Immediately one suspects parallels with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (the inspiration for the film Apocalypse Now). Is Carroll another Mr Kurtz, gone native and megalomaniac and perpetrating unspeakable evil on those he autocratically rules?
The journey to Burma is delightful. Drake, who has never left England before, travels by boat and train and pony, recording his impressions in letters to his much-loved wife. The descriptions are brilliant and bring an exotic flavour of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the East. Drake loves Burma. He adores the hill-top village of Mae Lwin in the Shan Hills where the Doctor lives. The Doctor is very civilised and believes the music will bring peace to this troubled region; certainly the natives in the village are peaceful and happy and seem to adore the Doctor. Edgar falls in love with the people, the countryside, and especially Burman woman Khin Myo. He has tasted the lotus and stays longer than he should.
But there are darker undercurrents. The Shan princes have formed the Limbin Confederacy which may oppose British rule. Enigmatic dacoit warlord Twet Nga Lu lurks in the jungle, ready to pounce. Who attacked the village before Drake arrived? And where does the Doctor go on his many diplomatic missions?
This is a haunting and lyrical evocation of Burma. There are seductive descriptions of the beautiful sights of town and countryside. As a piano tuner, Drake is particularly sensitive to sound and the description of notes and tunes are wonderful and exotic. Mason uses a particularly interesting technique of reporting some dialogue as though it were stream of consciousness.
Beautiful magic. August 2013; 348 pages
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57