Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Piano Teacher

I think I've mentioned it before, but I'm not the biggest fan of audio books. This has nothing to do with the media and everything to do with my attention span. I'm easily distracted. I'll be listening and suddenly it's five minutes later and I have no idea what was just said. With a print book it's much easier for me to focus. However, I've been trying a new system: I'll listen to an audio book at bedtime to get my mind off the events of the day and into a story. This actually has been working quite well and if I keep it up, I just might be able to reach my goal of 50 books this year.

One of the books I recently listened to was The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee. Set in Hong Kong in the 1940s and '50s, the story centers around two main characters and how their lives intersect. It's about how our own personal history, as well as the historical events in which we live through, defines and shapes who we are and our relationships.

More specifically, it is a tale centered around Claire Pendleton, a newlywed recently transferred to Hong Kong, and the affair she begins with Will Truesdale. Both hired by the same family, they must keep their affair quiet, but secrets from Will's past keep surfacing. She begins to learn of the connection between Will and her employers, and of a mysterious woman in Will's past. WWII changed many lives, especially those in Hong Kong, but until she met Will, Claire never knew just how much had changed.

I had high hopes for this novel, but ultimately I was disappointed. Hong Kong seemed nothing more than a high-society luncheon for the rich and popular. The setting could just as easily have been London for the first part of the book. It wasn't until the war actually hit that it made sense why Lee set the novel in this town. Lee goes back and forth between the 1940s war-era and the 1950s post-war era. This was actually a great tool because I was able to learn more information about Will's past than had the novel simply been following Claire. That being said, Claire was a vapid character. She had no depth, and there seemed to be no real need of her character other than a machination to continue the real story - that of Will and Trudy, his lover during the war. The events post-war (which I won't go into so I don't spoil it) would have taken place whether or not Claire had been there. She wasn't the catalyst, and therefore I saw no real point to her character.

So, really, I half liked this book. I really liked Will's story and was interested in what happened to him and the other foreign-nationals during the war. But as for the 1950s part of the novel, I really didn't care until the end, and even then it was just so I could learn what really happened to Trudy. 3 out of 5 stars for a good concept and different look at WWII, but a boring and somewhat useless main character.

Oh, and I actually really liked Orlagh Cassidy's reading of the novel. I'm pretty picky on narrators, but she kept me interested and had a pleasant voice. So if you want to try the audio book, I'd recommend that route.

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