“Love is Blind” by William Boyd – a little off-key

When Ainsley Channon finds that his son is not unexpectedly making a hash of running the Paris branch of his piano manufacturing and sales company, he sends his protégé, young Scottish piano-tuner Brodie Moncur to use his initiative to improve business. In the process, Brodie becomes infatuated with Lika, a beautiful Russian aspiring opera singer. Their relationship has to be conducted in secret, since she is the mistress of the once celebrated but now physically declining and alcoholic pianist John Kilbarron. From the outset it seems doomed to fail, owing not only to Kilbarron’s jealous and unstable character but also the menacing presence of his “minder” brother Malachi, who may have designs on, even some hold over Lika as well.

It was never quite clear to me why Brodie loves Lika so much, in what seems like a purely physical relationship. She seems dull and devious, dragging Brodie down the same path, changing him from a purposeful, outgoing individual into a passive, moping drifter with his life on hold – but of course, as the title states, “Love is Blind”. Admittedly, Brodie has occasional insights, such as the fact that being in love does not guarantee happiness, while we can never truly know another person, even when there is supposedly mutual love.

I was disappointed by some aspects of the early chapters. The book opens with a detailed description of how to tune a piano, which made little sense to me in the absence of a labelled diagram or two, clearly out of place in a novel. It read like a piece of research conducted to give the story authenticity, but dumped rather clunkily into the text. Then there are the potentially interesting situations which do not lead anywhere, such as Brodie’s visit to the family home, where his widowed father “Malky” dominates eight of his children into adulthood, reserving particular venom for Brodie, the only one to have escaped so far. A charismatic preacher in public, Malcolm Moncur degenerates somewhat implausibly into a gross, drunken bully behind the scenes. Like too many of the characters, he comes across as a caricature. It is never clear why he detests Brodie so much. Is there any significance in the fact that he is so dark compared to his siblings?

The pace is slow as if an essentially thin plot is being padded out, until the novel reaches a dramatic climax at the end of Part 3, two-thirds of the way through. After this, the tension is more sustained, and some past threads are pulled together more, to reach a passably satisfactory ending.

With its varied locations, from Scotland to Russia and the remote Andaman Islands, and the extensive cast of characters, this is an original if rambling take on a well-worn romantic theme but it did not really move or engage me, although many critics and general readers have clearly found it entertaining and engrossing.

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