Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

I liked this book well enough but it definitely had its flaws. It was an excellent book club book though, and we had one of our longest discussions in a long time.

Claire is a vapid blank and a young woman who marries an equally (if not more so) milquetoast of a man, mostly simply because he asked, and because she wanted to escape her parents. And he was leaving for Hong Kong and she wanted to go. He was helping to rebuild the infrastructure after the war (this was 1952). Claire meets Will, the chauffeur for the Chens, where she teaches piano to their daughter Locket. Will is exciting and doesn't care what other think. He does as he pleases and the Chen even seem a little scared of him. Claire immediately falls into bed with him, as she is utterly bored and he seems to give her a tiny bit of personality. Through flashbacks we see Will's experiences in 1942, when at first he is squired around by the wild and exotic Trudy, but eventually the Japanese come and he is sent to a POW camp and things get quite terrible.

So why is the book called The Piano Teacher? Will is really the main character, not Claire (although Claire is the mirror through which we see everyone else so she's the main character in that regard, although personally I like my main characters to have a tad more character.) Why is Claire sleeping with him? Why do all the British ex-pats in town feel the urge to unburden their secrets to Claire? Why are so many (perhaps all) of the characters pretty irredeemably bad? Why is no one sympathetic? Will Claire become pregnant? Will her affair be revealed? Who gave away the secret of the Crown Treasures? What became of Trudy?

It was fascinating to read about an occupied territory during the war, particularly one where all our characters are British but it's on the other side of the world. In that regard, it did remind me a little bit of A Town Like Alice, but that book is far superior.

This book made for a fast, easy read, there are a lot of interesting topics to discuss, and it was neat to learn about this different culture I was unfamiliar with. I'd describe this book as literary lite. It won't hurt, it's a good palate cleanser, and you learn a bit along the way, but don't expect too much.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

1 comment:

christa @ mental foodie said...

I didn't like this book at all... I thought I'd be very interested since I grew up in Hong Kong (obviously not in that era) but I was disappointed as I didn't quite get the point of the story... It was also a book club choice for me and others mostly liked it except me :) here's my review if you are interested: