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
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57