Friday, 18 October 2013

Piano Angel by Esther Woolfson

Mark Blum left his native Glasgow for a life in New York.  However, following the recurrence of a brain tumour he decides to return to Glasgow to be with his brother, Dan, with whom he has had little contact over the years.  There is clearly some enmity and resentment in the brothers relationship which originates from their friendship with Anci Goldmann, a Hungarian refugee who their family sheltered following the siege of Budapest in 1945.

The story begins with Dan dealing with the aftermath of Mark’s death.  However, the following chapter is set two years previously when Mark is first diagnosed with his brain tumour and is narrated by him.  The narrations vary between Dan, Mark and Anci which gives a wonderful multi perspective to the events and recollections of the story both of the past and present.

We are tantalized along the way with what has caused the rift between the two brothers and what part Anci played in this.  Over 40 years have passed since they lost regular contact so we can assume that the cause was of some significance and little hints are dropped along the way.

This is a thoroughly well thought out and beautifully written novel.  The prose is tightly packed and poignant throughout.  Not a word has been wasted and the prose has a lyrical, almost poetic feel.  I found myself re-reading parts of this simply for the beauty of the language.  Woolfson’s prose is very illustrative of her meaning.  For example, she describes a necklace belonging to a minor character as “a perfect sliver of distilled chill” and thus succinctly sums up Dan’s view of the character in question.

It is clear from the outset that this is not going to be a light entertaining read.  It deals with difficult subject matter but Woolfson handles this is a very empathetic and gentle manner.  There are very few books which make me cry and as expected as Mark’s death at the conclusion of this book was, I must confess to shedding a few tears.

My only slight criticism of this book is the Anci chapters.  She did not feel as real a character to me as Mark and Dan did and consequently when she is telling her back-story it sometimes felt like I was reading a history textbook.  However, the book was so successful for me overall that this was a minor issue.

Periodically, I had to pause to absorb the emotion in the beautiful prose before I could continue.  Every line, every paragraph had a precision that deserved time and absorption and I needed to stop to read and then read again in order to ingest the beauty and poignancy of the language.  This is not a novel to rush through but one to savour.  I enjoyed reading this book very much.  It deserves a wide readership and I hope lots of you will read it.

ISBN:  978-1-906120-34-4

Published by:  Two Ravens Press

Book price:  £9.99 (paperback)  Unfortunately, this book is currently out of print from the publishers but there are copies available through online book retailers.  I borrowed my copy from the library so it is worth checking there.

Total saving so far:  £16.98

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