Sunday, 10 April 2011

piano (jean echenoz)

The randomness of the reading process leads me via a Guardian recommendation to Echenoz, about whom I knew nothing, and having now read the brief Piano, am none the wiser. This slight book starts promisingly with its Paris-based description of a concert pianist who suffers from stage fright and has to be literally pushed on-stage by his curious, down-to-earth minder. Who are these people? What is their real connection? Why does Max, the pianist, live with his sister and dream every night of a woman he last saw thirty years ago? These and a succession of banal but potentially significant questions suggest that this is going to be an enigmatic, quirky read. The reader, enjoying the depiction of another side of Paris life, suspects that a layer of profundity is about to be revealed, or at the very least, hinted at. Especially when it is made clear that Max is going to die at some point. A treatise on death? A meditation on the life well lived? The critics' remarks on the front and back of the book claim this is so, but if that's the case it went over my head. Rarely has a reading experience felt more like literary wallpaper. Not an unpleasant wallpaper to find oneself perusing for the couple of hours it takes to read the book, quite soothing in fact, but wallpaper nonetheless.

I feel as though I ought to give Echenoz another go, and if all his books are this slight it might be possible to read the complete works in a weekend. It would seem he's a highly respected figure and the good folk on the comments section of the Guardian books page (no sign of Pelevin) seemed most enamoured of him. Which is not, when you think about it, necessarily something that should influence one's judgement. The book did, briefly, make me want to return to Paris at least one more time. But it didn't excite my curiosity about heaven or hell, which in the world according to Echenoz might be considerably closer than Paris. And whilst I'd normally be a sucker for a detour to Iquitos, in this case even I found the detour gratuitous and wondering whether the writer conceived the whole book as an excuse to visit the Amazon city? If so, hats off to him and I hope he got more out of it than this reader got out of Piano.

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