1 EAGLETON NOTES: The Piano Shop On The Left Bank



Monday 22 September 2008

The Piano Shop On The Left Bank

I have just read the third book in a row which was a first publication by the author. None has disappointed me. When CJ and I were in a charity shop browsing through the books as we are wont to do I came across The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, subtitled The hidden world of a Paris atelier, by T E Carhart an American living in Paris. I was attracted to the book but for some reason let it lie and CJ acquired it. However it prayed on my mind and I eventually 'borrowed' it from him. I use the parenthesis 'cos he has allowed me to keep it after I fell in love with it.

Rarely have I read a book of such charm which has completely captivated me. Not just as a read but as an inspiration to look more closely at things. Carhart's subject is pianos but he could have brought a similar insight to some other subject. Around the subject he weaves a charming, quiet story of people, relationships and music.

This would not have struck me as a book which would have made it into the top selling lists but it would appear to be into its third paperback edition at least and when a friend saw it on the breakfast bar last week she, too had read it and was full of praise.

It is also quite a coincidence that the importance to the author of his piano was a very strong part of the story in C'est La Folie which I so enjoyed and blogged about a few weeks ago. And I learned from both books that it is the French custom when one's hands are wet or grimy to offer one's right forearm to shake instead of a hand.

I was amused by the Guardian's Reviewer's opening paragraph: "Picture the scene had Carhart taken his proposal to the more ruthlessly commercial kind of publisher. "Well, I want to write a book about how I hung around in Paris, and got friendly with a piano restorer," mumbles the author uncertainly. "Then I buy a piano from him, start playing again myself after 20 years, and think quite a lot about pianos." The publisher fixes him with a disbelieving stare. "And that's a book? .................." "

The Observer's reviewer concluded "Perhaps the best recommendation of his book is that it makes you want to reach immediately for Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Bach, Scarlatti and the other composers whose names litter the book; if his aim was to inspire in his readers a renewed love for the music, he has succeeded admirably."

I'm not necessarily suggesting that you read this book. Unlike the last two I've mentioned this may not be to everyone's taste. However I thought it was both enjoyable and inspirational.

"Life is a river" he once told me "and we all have to find a boat that floats."

"Ah, I never wait for 'eventually'."

I hadn't considered the suite, as the French put it, the follow-through to circumstances and events that lend life its air at once poignant and meaningful.

...on a modern grand piano [there is] a combined torque [on the strings] of over thirty thousand pounds across an entire keyboard. [Wow]

..even Voltaire dismissed the piano as late as 1774: 'The piano is a boilermaker's instrument compared with the harpsichord'. [Another of Voltaire's statements for me to take issue with with Fiona]

More than any other composer's, Chopin's music addresses the central paradox of the piano: how to make a percussion instrument sing.

'There are many ways of doing things, but there is always one way that is natural.'

'A polytechnicien knows everything, but nothing else.'

'We have to accept that things are ambiguous.'

I wanted to thank him. I wanted him to play more, but finally I saw that the sincerest form of homage would be to follow his lead and talk about the instrument. He knew that we knew [how great his playing was], and the rest was noise.

1 comment:

  1. Strangely enough I got one third in and was thoroughly enjoying it, two thirds in and came to a stop... Perhaps I agree with the pretend publisher "..and that's a book?" For me it would have been better as a novella. Nevertheless, it's certainly worth starting and seeing how you get on.


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