‘Love is Blind’ by William Boyd

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★★★

Love is Blind is a sterling story about a young, hardworking piano tuner that falls into a heady romance with a beautiful singer. This is an affair that will turn out to be far more dangerous than he could ever imagine. If you enjoy love-triangles and beautiful music in your reads, then this is the book for you. It is a solid well-crafted piece of historical fiction.

I have waited for quite a while to buy Boyd’s latest novel. I was just really hesitant about reading it, because I know that when he gets it right, he really gets it right (Wighting for Sunrise and Any Human Heart are great reads), but I have also found that Boyd has a tendency to repeat the same story line in different books; Sweet Caress, The New Confessions and Any Human Heart are really the same tale, only in a different time and place, about a main character not being understood by his/her family or time, showing talent, but ends up old and disillusioned after years of travel. That is not to say they are bad books. On the contrary, they are quite good, but it does become rather repetitive after the third book. So when I read that the main character is again a young man setting out for an adventure, I feared the old story was back again in a new disguise. Luckily, I was wrong. Love is Blind starts off differently than other William Boyd books, I have read and it ends very differently. 

Our protagonist is Brodie, a piano tuner in Edinburgh in the 1890s leading a rather boring existence; he tunes pianos, goes to his favourite brothel when he has the means and does all he can to avoid his bullying preacher father. Apart from his fondness for his eight siblings, nothing keeps him in Scotland. So when he gets the opportunity to become an assistant manager in a piano shop in Paris, he ounces on the chance for escape. Brodie, it turns out, has a fine nose for business and innovative advertisement methods. It is whilst attempting to make a new marketing campaign going that he meets Lika. This young Russian soprano will turn out to be the love of his life. 

Lika becomes attracted to the sweet and gentle Brodie as well, but the problem is that Lika is already in a relationship with the famous pianist John Killbarron and is not willing to leave him. Head over heels in love, Brodie does what he can to stay close to Lika and her lover. It will turn out that there are actually some pretty good reasons for why Lika refuses to break up with Killbarron, and Brodie will become entangled in, amongst other things, a murder and a cat-and-mouse game around Europe.

Brodie is a pretty harmless guy – easygoing, intelligent and hardworking. At the beginning of the novel, he does not seem to have much more ambition than to experience Paris and earn a decent living. Anything other than going home to Scotland and the father that keeps humiliating him. We are never told much about Lika’s background, other than that she is Russian and is attempting a career as an opera singer. It is nice to have a woman character whose main concern is not always a love interest. Lika wants to get on in the world and she is sees the world in more nuances of grey than Brodie ever does. She also has a preoccupation with death that I found slightly unsettling, and Brodie seems a bit confused by this as well, but at the end of the novel I absolutely understood what Boyd was trying to say. 

What I know about building and maintaining a piano, you could fit into a tea spoon. Consequently, I have no idea if Boyd’s descriptions of Brodie’s trade are correct. But to my untrained eye, he must have done a lot of research into the topic, for the readers are given lots of detail about how to build or custom fit such a massive, intricate instrument. I did not mind that information in the least. It gives Brodie more depth to have a skill few others have and it enables the character to travel all over Europe; as he says in the novel, wherever there are pianos, he can work. 

Love is Blind contains many good individual elements: classic love story, young man growing up, duels, journeys through Europe. And these pieces work well together. But the book is not extremely original – many of plot points are so classic because they have been done before. Still, I enjoyed it and loved being in Boyd’s world. 

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