Tag Archives: David Abbott

The Upright Piano Player – David Abbott

Well, it seems like if you hanker after some great debut fiction then the list of ‘The Culture Show’s 12 Debut Novelists’ is pretty much the ideal place to go because so far, apart from one which maybe I should try again, every one of them I have tried has been a book I have really enjoyed, or been enthralled with. That includes the latest one I decided to try which was David Abbott’s ‘The Upright Piano Player’, as it shot up the TBR pile after hearing it raved about by Ann Kingman on ‘Books on the Nightstand’ a few weeks ago.

‘The Upright Piano Player’ has possibly one of the most gripping, horrifying and gut wrenching opening chapters I think I have come across in a long time. One that isn’t reflective of the book general style, though that doesn’t mean you will lose interest swiftly from then on, it’s a book that hooks you into someone’s life only rather near the end of the tale instead of the beginning. When we first meet Henry Cage in May 2004, we are taken with him to a funeral, of whose I will not say though you know by the end of the first chapter and it’s rather upsetting, especially as we are lead to the event of the death of said person in a flashback.

“He had chased after them screaming himself, God knows what – not words he thought, just a scream, a never-ending scream. He ran until his knee gave way. They found him crawling along the side of the road.”

Interesting then, and it had me wondering which is always good, why we are then taken back to November 1999. What Abbott does is to get us to know the background to the event that happens. Not in a ‘this is why it happened’ way, though there is some of that in part, rather in a way that we get to know just how fragile Henry’s world is, and indeed the world of those around him, in the five years from that point. There is forced retirement, estranged children and bitter whilst rather balmy ex-wives. Initially you think that Henry Cage has it all, the company, the flashy car, the nice property. As we read on we realise this is a lonely man on the edge of unravelling one that is sparked further by an act of random violence on New Year’s Eve, one which comes to haunt him again and again and leads to an unravelling.

What’s fascinating is how we watch Henry unravel whilst everyone else think things are fine. We see his reaction when he is kicked out of the very company he founded, he takes it gracefully outwardly and then we see him weeping in the toilets when no one else is around. He tells the police he is fine, and then can’t sleep for fear. In fact it’s the one of the master strokes in Abbott’s story, we are often given insights into the person Henry is via other people. We might join them for a chapter at a certain point in their life when Henry may only meet them for the briefest of moments, for example when he takes a chance on Maude Singer when no one else wants to employ her, though saying that she does appear again. I liked this strange style of personal and impersonal moments. I also thought Abbott summed up the ‘London’ attitude of forgetting people the moment they leave a company or the city.

“He’s bored probably – and unhappy, too, I would guess. Have you seen him since he left?”
“Afraid not – miserable people make me miserable too, so I avoid them.”

Things move forward due to his ex-wife, who summons him to her home in Florida. She has a her reasons, and those of course you would have to read the book to discover. It adds a certain twist to the book, another interesting strand and Abbott does do this at regular intervals, lost of things are happening in the background all the time. Are they pointers to what’s to come or merely just how life is? I did find the break up scene between Henry and Nessa rather emotional and added to the turmoil of all that’s to come, has gone, and is going on.

“She left the room on tiptoe, as if in the presence of the sick. She closed the door quietly behind her and he heard the clatter of her accelerated feet on the staircase. She could not wait to be gone. The real nastiness would start later.”

I didn’t think initially I would warm to Henry. I was worried he was going to be the stereotypical late fifties uncaring bastard what-sit and initially I was slightly proved right. He is a little arrogant, but he is also incredibly fragile and a bit of a home body, which is something he and I had in common, along with his love of books (in fact books become a theme). He’s human, he has his foibles yet at the same time he is a man prepared to admit when he’s wrong and fight passionately for what he believes in when he needs too. I enjoyed spending time with him, even if occasionally (after I had finished laughing at something awful he had done) I wanted to tell him to get a grip. He is also rather lonely and rather vulnerable, if also rather difficult. I liked him.

“His suitcase held few clothes, but was heavy with books. His great fear was of being stranded with nothing to read – so along with recent novels, he took bankers – books he knew he would enjoy reading again should the new titles disappoint. Light Years by James Salter always travelled with him and he invariably packed William Maxwell’s The Chateau. Thus insured, even Christmas could be endured.”

So were there any faults to the book? I would say there were two small ones, and yet they are going to sound bonkers because they are also strengths. Abbott creates characters which are fully formed people. So fully formed that sometimes he adds strands to them you want to learn more about, an example – if slightly selfish one – is of his son and daughter-in-laws book shop which I could have read lots and lots more about, he then closes the door on them either for good or for a while. It feels like some of the strands he starts off don’t quite get finished. He also tells the story in a very random order. One minute we are in 2004, then back to 1999 but not following a straight chronological trajectory as we get varying flashbacks along the way. It’s well done, it’s an interesting style, yet I would imagine it could confuse or put people off. For me it worked, I just put the effort in and read a paragraph or two once or twice to place them.

Overall, I really, really liked ‘The Upright Piano Player’. I am quite cross with David Abbott for not writing something sooner, he waited until he retired, but then I wonder if this book is just so good because its been fermenting in his brain for so long? I am hoping that we get another one soon as this is my sort of book, and I wasn’t really expecting it which makes it all the better. 9.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

Has anyone else read this novel, if so what did you think? There have been, not by me, some comparisons to Ian McEwan with David Abbott’s debut. I can in part see where those are coming from, mainly in terms of the violent or bizarre moments that change someones life and outlook. If you love McEwan then you will probably love this. Yet if you loathe McEwan don’t avoid reading this book, David Abbott is also an author in his own right and a different one, yet one who definitely deserves to shift as many copies as McEwan’s latest did.

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Filed under Books of 2011, David Abbott, Maclehose Publishing, Quercus Publishing, Review

May’s Incomings…

If you don’t like blog posts about lots of books arriving look away now… However if like me you love them you are in luck. So without further ado here are the books that have arrived throughout the month of May at Savidge Reads HQ. First up are the paperbacks which have come from the lovely people at Oxford University Press, Quercus, Vintage, Atlantic, Pan MacMillan, Serpents Tail, Peirene Press, Capuchin Classics, Beautiful Books, Faber, Gallic, Penguin and Myriad Editions…

  • Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell (unsolicited proof, this one came at a very fortuitous time as they are discussing this on The Archers for their village book group, love the new cover OUP have done)
  • The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths (the first of a crime series which has been getting lots of buzz, I like to start at the beginning)
  • The Upright Piano Player – David Abbot (I have been wanting to read this since I saw it on the World Book Night debut novelists Culture Show special)
  • Loaded – Christos Tsiolkas (unsolicited proof, another book I whooped at, have wanted to read this for year since I saw the film, pre-The Slap fame – a book I realised I read twice last year for The Green Carnation Prize and never blogged bout, and it’s been reissued)
  • Tell-All – Chuck Palahnuick (unsolicited proof, another book I read last year as a Green Carnation submission, maybe I should dig out all my thoughts on those, what do you think?)
  • Mr Peanut – Adam Ross (unsolicited proof, another book I was sent in Hardback, this a reminder I still haven’t read it and heard lots of good things about it)
  • On Black Sisters Street – Chika Unigwe (I begged for this one after seeing a wonderful review of it here)
  • The Wolf/Taurus – Joseph Smith (unsolicited proof)
  • Silence – Jan Costin Wagner (unsolicited proof, and another scandi-crime)
  • Kamchatka – Marcelo Figueras (unsolicited proof)
  • Kraken – China Mieville (I saw him talk at the beginning of May in Manchester thanks to his publishers who then sent me this after my loving ‘Embassytown’)
  • Union Atlantic – Adam Haslett (unsolicited proof, another book read for The Green Carnation last year and never discussed)
  • Wish You Were Here – Travis Elborough (unsolicited proof)
  • Tomorrow Pamplona – Jan van Mersbergen (I love the Peirene Books, so am sure their fifth will be brilliant)
  • The Undiscovered Country – Julian Mitchell (TGCP2011 submission)
  • Role Models – John Waters (TGCP2011 submission)
  • The Observations – Jane Harris (will be discussing Gillespie and I tomorrow, this is one of my favourite books ever and am really excited as I have been asked to write the reading guides for book groups and libraries for both Jane’s books, eek – a re-read is coming)
  • Hector and the Secrets of Love – Francois Lelord (I was one of the very few people who loathed the first Hector book, lets see how this one does it came with the below book which I am desperate to read)
  • Monsieur Montespan – Jean Teule (really excited about this as I loved ‘The Suicide Shop’ and this is Teule’s 17th Century French romp)
  • In the Country of Men – Hisham Matar (loved ‘Anatomy of a Disappearance’ so have high hopes for this one)
  • Hurry Up and Wait – Isabel Ashdown (unsolicited proof, I have her debut ‘Glasshopper’ very high on the TBR so am hoping this is a new author to love)

Next up are the trade paperbacks and hardbacks from the publishers Persephone, Quercus, Pam MacMillan, Vintage, Picador, Bloomsbury, Doubleday, Penguin and Atlantic…

  • Mrs Buncles Book – D.E. Stevenson (this was actually the present Claire had sent me for my birthday but the sequel arrived and Persephone kindly sent this one and let me keep the other, a present that kept on giving)
  • Monsieur Linh and his Child – Philippe Claudel (we read ‘Brodeck’s Report’ for the first Not The TV Book Club and so I am very excited about this)
  • Phantoms on the Bookshelves – Jaques Bonnet (a book about books and bookshelves, too exciting)
  • The Ritual – Adam Nevill (unsolicited proof, I just recently read ‘Apartment 16’ which I will be discussing in the far distant future as its my next book group choice in like five turns, I changed my mind but everyone had bought it, oops)
  • The Winter of the Lions – Jan Costin Wagner (unsolicited proof)
  • Mr Fox – Helen Oyeyemi (unsolicited proof, but a very exciting one as I am really keen to read Oyeyemi’s work)
  • The Sickness  – Alberto Barrera Tyszka (a book I have heard a lot about, was drawn in by the cover, and want to read)
  • The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. – Jacques Strauss (I begged for this one after reading this review)
  • State of Wonder – Ann Patchett (unsolicited proof, though I have a feeling Patchett could become a new favourite author)
  • Before I Go To Sleep – S.J. Watson (any book that has Sophie Hannah, Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen singing its praises has to be a book for me, this is also a submission for TGCP2011)
  • Do No Harm – Carol Topolski (another beg after seeing this review by Kim who loved it, I got ‘Monster Love’ from the library too)
  • Last Man in Tower – Aravind Adiga (unsolicited proof, very excited about this as I liked ‘The White Tiger’ a lot, must read his short story collection too)   

Finally are four books that I have bought/swapped in the last month…

  • The Memories of Six Reigns – Princess Marie Louise (this book is really hard to get hold of but I found it early in the month in a pub that sold books for charity for 50p, it’s a book Neil Bartlett recommended to me,and you, last summer, I might have whooped when I saw this, ok I did)
  • The Ice Princess/The Preacher – Camilla Lackberg (I managed to swap these at the Book Exchange early in the month, I have heard a lot of praise for this author and the fact she is one of the female scandi-crime writers intrigues me)
  • The Hypnotist – Lars Kelper (I bought this with some birthday vouchers from Gran, its yet more scandi-crime but with a difference having been written by a couple and being a thriller meets horror, interesting, and a book I have been more and more desperate to read)

That’s the lot, and it is a lot I have noted, that have come in this month. I think its time for a clear out of the book boxes and mount TBR again isn’t it? Eek! That always fills me with dread. Anyways because I love getting books, and I know you do too I have teamed up with Headline to give away some books to all of you, you’ll have to pop here to find out how. It’s a good book though, one of my favourites of the month just passed.

So which of these would you like to hear more about and see me reading, on a whim of course, and which books or authors have you read and what did you think?

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Do I Want To Read… Some Debut Novelists

I have been meaning to write about this particular thing since World Book Night a few weeks ago. There was a brilliant show on BBC2 on the night in question which looked at promising debut British authors and coming up with a shortlist of twelve that stood out. You may remember me writing about my thoughts on debut novels, and you helpfully gave yours, a while back and this seemed to fit in just so. A panel of judges including novelist Helen Oyeyemi (who I have been meaning to read for ages) and headed by John Mullan, who wrote about it in The Guardian, came up with a final list of twelve 12 and its these novels that I wanted to ask you about…

Now having said I wanted to ask you about all of them, I actually only want to ask about the ones in bold. The ones that aren’t I have already read. I know this list will have people saying ‘that one shouldnt be on there, this one should’ however it’s actually the fact that I have really loved three of the four I have actually read that made me want to ask you if I should give the other ones ago? I have linked back to two of them; sadly I didn’t love ‘Union Atlantic’ when I read it last year (sorry!!) so never reviewed it, the simply amazingly brilliant ‘Mr Chartwell’ is the book up for discussion tomorrow.

I am reading a corker of a debut novel by Naomi Wood at the moment which you can see a picture of  somewhere up there ——> so I am keen to read plenty more of them. I have a few of the list above already (in italics) one of which I struggled with but will head back to. I really like the fact the debut novelists are all of very diverse ages. I just wanted your thoughts on the ones I have not read whether I own them or not, should I indulge in them all?  That’s all… for now.

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