The Weight Of A Piano by
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Pub date: 22nd January 2019
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Two women over nearly 50 years are united by their attachment to an extraordinary piano and a secret that causes a domino effect of tragedy. Katya is growing up in the Soviet Union during the 1960s when a neighbour gifts her with a Bluthner piano; Clara has just ended another hopeless relationship in 2012 and is moving the same piano from her ex-boyfriend’s house to a new flat. The story of how the instrument went from one woman’s hands to the next unfolds when Clara allows the piano to be used by an enigmatic photographer for a special project, in a history as mournful and heart-wrenching as the music it played in its previous life.
Why should this piano be special? Each one was special, with its own soul and distinct personality. This one was substantial but unassuming, mysterious but sincere.
Gosh. This book is sad. It’s also beautifully poignant and written with gorgeous prose. The piano may be the centre of the story, but the characters are Cander’s masterpiece; each one is melancholy and self-destructive, a portrait of how one decision can cause a ripple effect over several lives.
The two standouts are the leading ladies, Katya and Clara, very different people, but both clinging onto the piano as a reminder of their former lives. For Katya, she relies on it for happiness she can’t find in her marriage and new experiences in America having fled the Soviet Union under her husband’s demand. She is desperately lonely, diagnosed with depression, but a masterful pianist who is never more alive than when she is sat at the keys.
She lifted her hands gently and paused before setting upon the keys with a strikingly fast and tempestuous piece that sent her hands flying up and down until it seemed she could strike sparks on them.
Clara, meanwhile, received the piano as a birthday gift soon before her parents died in a fire that also took all her belongings and home – the piano is literally the only thing she has left of her childhood, and although it wasn’t necessarily a happy or caring one, her perspective has warped to consider it vital as a physical memory that she refuses to part with despite the perils of moving it from home to home and the fact she is unable to play.
Like Katya, it at first seems that she doesn’t fit in with her surroundings; she is the only female mechanic at a family run garage, she doesn’t want to marry her comfortable live-in boyfriend and she grew up under the care of her aunt and uncle who had no children of their own and limited parenting skills. However, it becomes clear throughout the novel that unlike Katya who cannot escape her situation, Clara has actually set up a life that she could be content in and the only thing standing in the way of her happiness is herself. She is the one falling in and out of unhealthy relationships, while denying herself her true affection for her co-worker Peter; she is the one desperately clinging onto the piano that is no use to her despite the fact that letting go might help her exhume the trauma of losing her parents.
The Bluthner became little more than a piano-shaped paperweight, keeping what was left of her childhood memories from floating away.
Cander has a gorgeous flow to her writing style. She is descriptive without getting tangled in metaphors, keeping her prose ethereal and dreamy but still rooted in the sometimes painful reality she had created. Her fictional journey through Death Valley in Las Vegas combines factual world building with beautiful passages of writing, bringing the setting vividly to life for the reader.
It struck me that the chapters set in the Soviet Union from Kayta’s point of view have more of a clipped tone, as though they are being written in English by someone who speaks it fluently but not as a first language. The slang and ease that can be found in Clara’s modern day chapters is missing and it’s an extremely clever technique which develops the atmosphere of Katya’s stark life and create more of a comparison between the women.
You know the Moral Code: he who does not work, neither will he eat. We will lost friends. We will lose water and electricity. How are we supposed to take care of a baby then, eh? What will we do for money?
I’ll be honest, I saw the majority of the twists coming, but I don’t feel like Cander was trying to create conventional shocks. Her writing teased each reveal out so the reader felt they were a step ahead, then hesitated at a red herring, then realised that no, they were right; this held a different element of surprise to a sudden reveal and felt like a reward for the reader for joining her cleverly placed dots together. This review is spoiler free, so I won’t go into detail, but if you find yourself with a theory about photographer Greg and his need for the piano, odds are you’ve got it.
His passion was compelling; it was probably the first thing that had drawn her to him.
The Weight of a Piano is a beautiful, haunting novel. It’s story is in two halves, with one that sweeps across decades and continents, and another that is contained in one area over less than week, giving it a dizzying scope that narrows down from a passage of years to the description of one minute in the lives of two women. It isn’t an easy read, with themes of death, grief and depression as the driving force behind the plot, but the ambiguously hopeful ending gives it a bittersweet and rewarding final note.
He said even a blind man could see the music beating in your heart.
I received The Weight of a Piano through NetGalley in exchange for a review. Thanks to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for allowing me a copy!
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