Love is Blind - Boyd, William

Love is Blind

William Boyd

Yayınevi: Viking

Yayın tarihi: 05/2019

ISBN: 9780241295922

İngilizce | 296 Sayfa | 14,86 x 21,41 x 1,85 cm.

Tür: Tarihsel Roman

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“Love is blind” may seem like a tired proverb, but it fits literally and figuratively as a theme for the protagonist in Boyd’s new novel, which spans over a decade at the turn of the 19th century. Brodie Moncur is a 24-year-old handsome, educated gentleman, a first-rate piano tuner in Edinburgh,with perfect pitch and attention to detail. He has poor vision, though, and depends on his Franklin bifocals; otherwise the world appears “utterly aqueous.”

When Brody’s boss at Channing & Co, a family-run piano shop, offers him a showroom managerial position in their Paris store in 1894, Brodie accepts. He offers an innovative idea to employ a pianist, John Kilbarron, known as the “Irish Liszt,” to play a Channon piano in concerts and hence boost sales. This leads Brodie to the love of his life--a tall, beautiful Russian opera singer--and thus to the main action of the story.

Boyd’s novels tend to be genre-benders, and this is no exception. It is part romance, international adventure, classic drama, a bit of melodrama, and even shades of a play—or a Chekhov play. The epigraph is written by Chekhov’s widow, Olga Knipper. She describes a play that her husband intended to write in the last year of his life, in which the hero loves a woman “who either does not love him or is unfaithful to him.” This isn’t a spoiler for Boyd’s novel, only perhaps an inspiration for certain narrative flecks.

But there are other Chekhov parallels—from “The Lady with the Dog” and Chekhov’s gun principle to a consumptive protagonist and a small but significant appearance of a Russian doctor, among many examples. I see most of the Chekhov allusions, however, as an aspect of the author’s playful wit, his levity that occasionally borders on farce. But Boyd’s use of the absurd is counterbalanced by an underlying poignancy, so intimate does the reader become with Brodie and his fate.

Brodie is immediately smitten with Lika, Kilbarron’s sometimes-mistress, and feels “as if his innards were molten—as if he might melt in a puddle of sizzling magma on the floor.” Curiously, and I think this was the author’s intention, Lika remains inscrutable, inexplicable—not really three-dimensional EXCEPT from Brodie’s point-of-view. We see her through his eyes, not ours. In fact, she “stood at the very limits of both of the lenses of his Franklin spectacles—move and squint as he might, he still couldn’t bring her into focus.” The antagonist is John Kilbarron’s brother, Malachi, a truly old school villain who follows the couple “like a hell hound,” and is present at a duel that marks a turning point of the story.

What kept me fastened to the novel was Boyd’s meticulous plotting and the deepening of Brodie’s troubles related to his constant love for Lika, despite the odds which would have driven most men away. He is committed to her despite threats to his life and his need to flee at intervals, and the stress it has on his tubercular health problems. The reader is sent on quite a journey—from France, to Scotland, to Russia—and then full circle where the novel opens with a prologue in the Andaman Islands in 1906.

Many sections of the novel are like little short stories that could have theoretically expanded into their own separate narratives. One of my favorites is when the reader is installed at the Moncur family home in the Scottish Borders, with Brodie’s eight brothers and sisters and his fire-and-brimstone preacher father, Malcolm Moncur, a widower, perhaps an analogue of Malachi—a grim and sinister figure.

The preacher acts despicably toward his children, especially Brodie, who Malcolm refers to as “you black bastard” and other racist images of Brodie’s coloring, which doesn’t match the rest of the family’s ginger complexion. Malcolm’s blackness comes from the heart “a dark singularity.” Brodie rejects religion as he rejects his father.

Instead of blind faith to God, Brodie chooses the providence of blind devotion to Lika. The author expresses his narrative within the secular Chekhovian divination of love, art, time, and death. As Brodie is gazing into the guts of a piano, he reflects, “Mysteries—music, time, movement—reduced to complex, elaborate mechanisms.”

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