Love Is Blind: A Novel
- By William Boyd
- 384 pp.
- Reviewed by Lloyd I. Sederer, MD
- November 7, 2018
A timeless plot and elegant writing elevate this globe-spanning tale.
Love is blind, sort of. Love creates blinders: We only see what we want to see, or not see what is anathema. There are no spectacles to correct its myopia.
The perpetually fine, Whitbread Award-winning author William Boyd, who has given us 10 novels, including Waiting for Sunrise and A Good Man in Africa, one work of nonfiction, collections of short stories, and plays, delivers again in Love Is Blind.
In the novel, we meet Brodie Moncur (“mon cur” is a French-English play on words meaning “my mongrel dog”), an ordinary man caught in extraordinary circumstances at the turn of the 19th century in Europe.
Brodie’s story reminds us that it matters not if you’re rich or poor, noble or plebian, urban or rural. What drives the plot is that the walls of life are closing in on the protagonists: They are on an inescapable collision course — because they are figuratively blind — with a tragic fate, all the while beset with passion and conflict.
Brodie is a Scotsman in his early 20s as the story begins. He is one of a brood of siblings whose mother has died and whose father is a drunken minister; they know only from insult and attack. But Brodie has a unique and exceptional gift: He has perfect pitch and is a piano tuner soon sought around the world. This should be his ticket out of his painful family, but pain remains his lifelong companion in body and heart.
Brodie’s remarkable capabilities as a piano tuner, teacher, and businessman take him first to Edinburgh, then Paris and Russia. He falls in with a world-renown pianist, John Kilbarron, whose aging, arthritic hands are ending his career until Brodie keeps it going with his artistry in making piano keys as light as feathers.
Then matters darken.
Kilbarron lives with a Russian opera singer as gorgeous as the northern summer days are long: Lika Blum. Clandestine love springs between Brodie and Lika. Kilbarron’s brother and manager, Malachi, brings in the not-so-light touch of evil that endangers everyone and makes for great suspense.
This novel gives us a tale of a quadrangle of characters, not the usual triangle: two brothers, a woman, and the man caught in the middle. A man who is blinded by love and cannot, will not, see the violence, pain, and tragedy it will inevitably bring.
Brodie runs off with Lika and is pursued by Malachi, who wants deadly revenge for the emotional and professional sabotage the piano tuner has delivered. The lovers live like fugitives until Lika returns to the Kilbarron fold in an effort to save Brodie, who now has tuberculosis.
The story moves about to wondrous cities, including St. Petersburg, Nice, and Trieste, and finally to exotic, aboriginal islands near Malaysia, where Brodie has fled to and joined an ethnographer, a rich American woman studying the natives.
William Boyd is a beautiful writer, capturing settings, characters, and the turn-of-the-century world in elegant and spare prose. He weaves a plot as ancient as it is modern, with family, love, intrigue, betrayal, debilitating illness, and the triste of loss. The circle of the lives entangled in Love Is Blind is left incomplete and is finished by a mournful, elegant Scottish/English ballad, “My Bonny Boy”:
My bonny man has gone tae sleep,
His journey o’er — he’s heard the call.
Birth tae death is the shortest leap,
The grave is waiting for one and all.
Dr. Lloyd I. Sederer is a psychiatrist, public health doctor, and medical journalist.