Love is Blind by William Boyd
Boyd is one of the modern novelists I really enjoy as he can write a gripping spy novel like Restless or a book about one woman's journey through the twentieth century like Sweet Caress with equal eloquence.
Love is Blind is of the latter style as the novel opens, in the 1880s, with us meeting Scotsman Brodie Moncur born to into the large brood of a corrupt and tyrannical minister just as he is about to break free of that oppressive home. Owing to the kindness of a once-wealthy neighbor, Moncur, after learning he has only modest talents as a pianist, embarks on a career as a piano tuner - an "in-demand" and well-compensated career in an age when many homes had a piano and top concert pianists were kinda, sorta the rock stars of their age.
After proving his value to a piano manufacturer in Scotland, he is sent to the company's Paris store to be the assistant manger to the owner's son setting Moncur on an odyssey that will take him around much of Europe, Russia and even to an island off the coast of Malaysia.
In Paris, despite successfully growing the business, he becomes aware that his boss is stealing from the company. But because, as noted, his boss is the owner's son, he is all but powerless to do anything about it. Also at this time, Moncur has his first outbreak of tuberculosis - a quite common-for-the-period and, often times, lethal disease that will stay with him the rest of his life. At this point, he is offered the opportunity to work full time for the renown concert pianist John Kilbarron and his brother/manager Malachi.
Again, things go well at first for Moncur - his talents at tuning a piano reduces the pain John experiences playing - but he also meets and starts an affair with John's lover the - tall, almost gangly, wan and captivating Russian singer, Lika Blum. From here, it's off to Russia where John is commissioned to write a concert and open a theater. More drama follows: Moncur continues his affair with Lika behind John's back; Malachi catches wind of it leading to duels, break-ups and cross continental hunts as John and Lika try to build a life away from the Kilbarrons, but the past keeps coming back.
This is not Boyd's best effort as the whole is less satisfying than the parts. Yes, you care about Moncur and Lika, yes you learn a lot about the elite world of concert pianists (and, even more interesting, the incredible mechanical sophistication of their pianos), and yes you learn the late-19th-century scientific view and medical treatments for TB (a lung disease made a bit more poignant in our coronavirus age), but somewhere along the way, you realize you're reading a well-written soap opera that holds your interest but doesn't do a lot more.
Sure you can draw timeless parallels to this or that - a young man with a unique talent suffering from a debilitating disease or his and Lika's star-crossed love affair or, even, the mendacity of so many people Moncur encounters - but those parallels don't somehow do that on their own. And, yes, Moncur has a philosophy on life that ranges from spirituality without religion to a Forrest-Gump-like "just keep moving forward no matter what is thrown at you" approach, but its feels haphazard and superficial.
And, very definitely, yes, the writing is Boyd brilliant in spots, but also - in what is a modern-book tic / meme / norm as, I'm guessing, "market surveys show" the public wants/ it sells books - foul language and awkwardly explicit sexual details seem forced and break Boyd's more elegant prose. I did enjoy it, but recommend Restless or Sweet Caress if you are looking to give Boyd a try.