The Piano Teacher, Janice J K Lee, The Viking Press, 2009, 326 pp
Marketing has been with us for many years as the engine which drives commerce, but these days it is the slickest it's ever been. In the niche of book covers, I consider myself at least careful not to buy a book for its cover, but this one pulled me in like the proverbial sucker: the colors, the image of the woman and the title all worked their magic on me. Fortunately I was not too badly suckered, especially because I recommended The Piano Teacher to one of my reading groups.
Claire Pendleton is an unformed, inexperienced provincial English young woman who married a man she barely knew, mainly to escape her boring life and overbearing mother. She finds herself in post WWII Hong Kong and before long she is in way over her head. Between the social life, the impenetrable lover who excites her far more than her husband and intrigues lingering from the war, she is forced to develop a personality. Both her innocence and an intrepid streak she never knew she had, bring her through.
The story is historical and something of a thriller. The actual main characters are Claire's lover, Will Truesdale and his now deceased lover from the war, a Eurasian socialite named Trudy Liang. From Graham Greene to James Clavell, novels set in Hong Kong always deal in a certain dark, sensuous and slightly criminal set of circumstances and The Piano Teacher is no exception.
Serious flaws such as an abrupt change in style shortly before the end and inconsistencies in Claire's character still did not ruin the fascination and power of the story. I look forward to more from a promising first novelist.
(The Piano Teacher is available in paperback on the adult fiction shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)