Book Quote:

“Henry was not used to people disliking him. He had sauntered through life in the glow of easy approval. The incident on Westminster Bridge had not only been an affray, it had been an affront. The instant aggression and then the viciousness of the subsequent persecution had perplexed him. He worried that luck was deserting him.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (JUN 9, 2011)

David Abbott starts his mesmerizing and haunting debut book, The Upright Piano Player, with a quote from Nietzsche: “The consequences of our actions take hold of us, quite indifferent to our claims that meanwhile we have improved.”

It’s an apt quote because indeed, actions have consequences in the case of his protagonist, Henry Cage. Henry is, indeed, a caged man – uptight, disconnected, and alienated. Throughout his life, he has amassed the trappings of success: a sterling career, a spirited and beautiful wife, a sensitive son, an elegant London townhome. Yet he has squandered his gifts, eventually losing his marriage, destroying his relationship with his son, and ending his partnership in his firm – not of his own accord.

And then, on the eve of the millennium, a random act of violence occurs. Henry inadvertently pushes into a stranger on the crowded Westminster Bridge during a New Year’s Eve encounter. The stranger, Colin, is an angry and vindictive working-class man who strikes back in a disproportionate way and then begins to stalk Henry. A sense of menace ensues, a little reminiscent of the atmosphere in Enduring Love by Ian McEwan.

Henry is a man on the edge, ready to “improve,” to re-engage with his family and the world around him. For the first time in years, he truly reaches out, flirting with the idea of a new romance, reconnecting with his ill ex-wife, striving to create a bond with his now-grown son and his grandson, Hal, whom he has only just met. Yet at the periphery of his life is the stalker who is threatening to destroy all that he is working to put together again.

The reader knows, from the first 10 pages, that the ending will be heartbreaking and that another random incident will occur that will turn him into a man torn apart by grief. As a result, this is a particularly voyeuristic “read;” we know that none of Henry’s well-meaning actions will save him from a wrenching fate that no parent or grandparent should ever have to endure. We, as readers, maintain full awareness of where life is going for Henry, something that is denied to the protagonist himself. Henry remains blinded; for example, when he views a barn owl with his grandson, he thinks, “It had seemed a gift. Like the sighting of a kingfisher, a singling hour, a portent of favor. How wrong could a man be?”

Throughout the arc of the book, we observe Henry from a distance. He is not a particularly introspective man, a trait that I often find unsatisfying. However, not here; David Abbott pulls it off, propelling us along on Henry’s journey. All the while, we know that Henry will be unable to sidestep his fate; despite his rediscovery of self, he will need to confront the loss and grief that is his destiny.

This is, after all, a cautionary tale, a tale about whether “upright” motives can create harmony in lives that are tossed around by life’s circumstances. It asks provocative questions: how much of life results from past choices and how much is totally random? The Upright Piano Player is written by a founding partner of the United Kingdom’s largest advertising agency, and this is his first novel. Hopefully, it is not his last.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 6 readers
PUBLISHER: Nan A. Talese (June 7, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Q Blog interview with David Abbott
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst


June 9, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel, Psychological Suspense

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