06 February 2009

The Well-Tempered Clavier (William Coles)

On the recommendation of a friend I wandered into Foyles the other day and asked for "The Good-Tempered Clavicle."

Hilarity ensued and when the salesman managed to stop laughing he handed me The Well-Tempered Clavier.

I would have laughed at me too... now that I've looked up what a clavicle is.

Without the recommendation I would never have chosen to pick this up. For one thing, the two people engaged in what appears to be some serious wall action look like they're pressed up against a backdrop of acid-washed jeans.
I know we shouldn't judge a book by the cover, but, having worked in a bookshop for years I understand the importance of covers. Marketing dropped the ball on this one.

Which is a real pity because I feel this would have turned into one of those slow-burners... ESPECIALLY in America and Australia. If you're not English you have a complete fascination with institutions like Eton, Oxford, the House of Lords etc. etc. Alistair Darling's not the Treasurer, he's the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The English know how to create an aura of history and pomposity around something until they have the rest of the West enthralled. When I first moved to England last year I went on a tour of Eton, that's how intrigued I was with the school.

Unfortunately, I was on the 'expectant parents' tour instead of the one for tourists. I was the only girl without a bump.

Coles' novel tells the story of Kim, a young man in his last years of Eton College who falls in love with his piano teacher India. She introduces him to the Well-Tempered Clavier, Bach's stunning collection of preludes and fugues that is one of the most influential works in the history of classical music (ahem, thank you wiki). They embark upon a love affair but are torn apart when inevitable discovery occurs.

Kim is an intriguing character, slightly Caulfield in his grounded yet removed take on life; slightly Manolin in his innocence combined with dedication. India is merely the female in the relationship and in my opinion Kim could have fallen in love with anyone put in her situation, which makes him all the more believable as a love-struck seventeen year old. Considering this is essentially a love story, Coles has done very well to create a novel that could be equally enjoyed by the guys and the gals, the sweat is mixed in with the roses and the story is all the better for it. The writing is such that regardless of how much appeal the setting of Eton should have for all the Anglophiles out there, the delicate and deliberate prose will be what ensures the devotion of the reader until the very last page.

The book has been re-released this year with a different title and cover which will hopefully help sales... in the meantime ignore any aesthetic reservations you may have and give it a go.

Rating: 8/10.
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