The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander
Clara is eleven when her father brings home an early birthday present; of course, she thanks him, but she’s never asked for a piano, or a musical instrument of any kind. The next day it’s disappeared, and the day after she’s orphaned: when her parents die in a house fire as she staying at a friend’s, the piano is all she has left of her former life. It accompanies her through various flat moves and doomed relationships, although her hands are better suited to her work as a car mechanic than caressing the keyboard.
These two strands gradually come together in an unusual road trip through Death Valley with a taciturn photographer. It’s a beautiful story about obsession, fear of intimacy and the distorting pain of childhood loss. I don’t give more detail for fear of spoiling the reading journey, but I’d heartily recommend it as a lockdown read. Thanks to Europa editions for my review copy.
A Bookshop in Algiers by Kaouther Adimi translated by Chris Andrews
Those politics make Charlot’s strand the most alluring, and his character more upbeat. But the miserable book-fearing Ryad furnished for me the novel’s only laugh (and that a cynical one regarding the bureaucracy required to donate much-needed books to a local school). Unfortunately, the historical strand unfolds mostly through Charlot’s condensed diary entries. These, despite references to famous authors – a few I’ve read, like Camus, Lorca, and Henri Bosco, along with many I’ve never heard of – were a world away from Samuel Pepys.
Charlot’s trials would earn a nod of recognition from any small publisher or bookseller trying to keep their heads above water in our own troubled times. Serpent’s Tail, who provided my proof copy back when the coronavirus was just a Chinese thing, is one of several small publishers in need of our support. (You can find more at A Life in Books.) My favourite title from them is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler and, if you haven’t read it, get hold of a copy now! (Or hang on for my next post with a review of Rabbits for Food: a more recently published novel from Serpent’s Tail I did enjoy.)
My fellow IQ author, Clare Stevens, has put together a wonderful post on how Inspired Quill, stranded in Spain, is keeping going through the lockdown. Supporting them has just got a whole lot easier with four short story collections – including mine – discounted when purchased in e-book format directly from the publisher.