Sunday, September 2, 2012

THE PIANO TEACHER by Janice Y.K. Lee ✰✰✰ and 1/2


This book is yet another example of how random grabs off the shelf at the library, or in this case, the available list on Overdrive’s audio system, seldom seem to pan out for me.  Those who follow me on Amazon’s Shelfari know that I have a massive virtual shelf, thoughtfully constructed based on books that have been recommended by readers that know my tastes and also books that I myself have researched and added to my wish list of books to read.  I really should stick to my shelf.
At first glance, the premise seems to have a lot of promise.  A young English woman, Claire, travels with her husband to Hong Kong in the mid-1950s; the narrative is split between her story and one set roughly ten years earlier, when the Japanese occupied Hong Kong during World War II.  Author Janice Lee does a good job evoking the feel of Hong Kong during the occupation, with its hodge-podge of nationalities, resulting in a confusion of alliances for survival, and since most of the characters in the later time frame are the same, she is able to show how their experiences during the war affected how they came to view one another after-something I feel she did quite well.

The novel falls flat for me in two areas.  First, the plot is very transparent; the supposed mystery is what had become of a set of crown jewels of China that was rumored to be in Hong Kong, and which the Japanese wanted.  I read very few mysteries and am not very good at sussing out clues, but it doesn’t take a genius; because of this, much of the plot seems very inane.  In addition, the plot does not flow smoothly; not only does it jump from past to present, but it also backtracks within those timeframes, retelling the story from another character’s viewpoint, which I find redundant.

The characters are also a weak point for me, being in turns unlikeable, inconsistent, flat.  Just when I feel a character is developing, they take a turn into someone else or revert back into someone you think they have forsaken-it is jarring.

In short, the only thing that saves this novel from being a three star read is the setting, which Ms. Lee does a good job painting for the reader, and the audio, which is well narrated by Orlagh Cassidy for Blackstone Audio.  I will call it a take-it or leave-it read. 

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