Love is Blind

Love is Blind

Love is Blind is William Boyd's sweeping, heart-stopping new novel. Set at the end of the 19th century, it follows the fortunes of Brodie Moncur, a young Scottish musician, about to embark on the story of his life. When Brodie is offered a job in Paris, he seizes the chance to flee Edinburgh and his tyrannical clergyman father, and begin a wildly different new chapter in h...

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Title:Love is Blind
Author:William Boyd
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Love is Blind Reviews

  • Candace

    Brodie Moncur is a piano tuner in Edinburgh which sounds like a pretty low-key profession, but in the hands of William Boyd certainly is not. It's the last decade of the 19th century when Brodie has the opportunity to move to his employer's new Paris showroom and help establish the brand on the Continent.

    Brodie is an artist, not only musically, but also as a tuner. He knows how to shave and balance the hammers so that a piano has just the touch the pianist needs. This gift is what brings John K

    Brodie Moncur is a piano tuner in Edinburgh which sounds like a pretty low-key profession, but in the hands of William Boyd certainly is not. It's the last decade of the 19th century when Brodie has the opportunity to move to his employer's new Paris showroom and help establish the brand on the Continent.

    Brodie is an artist, not only musically, but also as a tuner. He knows how to shave and balance the hammers so that a piano has just the touch the pianist needs. This gift is what brings John Kilbarron--"The Irish Lizst"--into the fold as a representative of Brodie's piano company. They travel across Europe and Russia, travels made prickly by transporting a grand piano hither and yon, and by Brodie's growing obsession with Kilbarron's lover, a Russian soprano named Lika Blum.

    ""Love is Blind" has many of the classic Boyd features; the silvery, unattainable woman, a wavering, flawed man with a special talent. As in the best of Boyd's novels, you are immediately immersed in the time and place, familiar, yet quirky and unexpected. There's an aspect of his writing that will tickle you in a subversive way.

    My favorite of his novels is "The New Confessions" and the thrillers are masterful as well. It's such a joy to read his latest, and continue to experience him as a writer at his best.

  • Andrew Smith

    William Boyd writes books you can get lost in. In

    and

    so rich is his mix of fact and fiction that he almost convinced me he was writing about the life of a real people. He wasn't of course, but I became so immersed in the lives of Logan Mountstuart and John James Todd that I really found it hard to accept I was reading a piece if fiction. I’d lived the life of these characters and at the end of both books I experienced a tearful moment when I reached the final

    William Boyd writes books you can get lost in. In

    and

    so rich is his mix of fact and fiction that he almost convinced me he was writing about the life of a real people. He wasn't of course, but I became so immersed in the lives of Logan Mountstuart and John James Todd that I really found it hard to accept I was reading a piece if fiction. I’d lived the life of these characters and at the end of both books I experienced a tearful moment when I reached the final page. Here he manages to do it again, this time we are introduced to a piano tuner named Brodie Moncur. We’re close to the end of the 19th century and Brodie is 24 years old. He works for the Channon Piano Company at their Edinburgh showroom and we follow him through the ups and down of his working life, track his physical health, meet his large family and travel as far and wide as France, Switzerland, Russia and the little known Andaman Islands (in the Bay of Bengal if you're wondering). But most of all we get to share his obsession with a Russian opera singer called Lika. I’ll warn you in advance, it’s an emotional journey.

    It's soon recognised that Brodie possesses an energy and an entrepreneurial spirit that would serve the company well in helping grow its new shop in Paris and he is dispatched forthwith. But before he goes, he returns to the small rural town in which he grew up to visit his family. His father is the local clergyman – and a real Hellfire preacher he is, too – and he demonstrates an unexplained animus towards Brodie. After a testing couple of days spent with his large family he’s glad to make his escape. Once in Paris he meets resistance from the shop manager, the son of the company owner, but he manages to push through a number of his ideas which includes the recruitment of a top piano player to publicise their brand. It will cost money and it's a bit of a gamble, but Brodie is convinced it’ll bring significant dividends. It's at this point that John Kilbarron (the ‘Irish Listz’) enters the picture… together with his lover, Lika.

    Boyd brilliantly brings the whole thing to life with his rich descriptions of time and place and razor sharp dialogue. Each character is vividly described – none more so than Kilbarron’s sinister brother, Malachi - and even the minor figures seem to be original and interesting. And there are sufficient historical references and instances of casual name dropping to make the whole thing

    real.

    As the book progresses the tension level fluctuates. There is one brilliant set piece I won't go into, but it’s so well done I sure my eyes were bulging out of my head as I read it. If you get to read this book you’ll know this event when you reach it. But if I have a bone to pick it’s that the dance between Brodie and the Kilbarron brothers does seem to go on a little too long and, in fact, there are a few sections that did feel unnecessarily protracted. It all comes out in the wash though and by the end I was feeling that my investment in wading through the slower sections had paid off. By this point I really did have the feeling that I fully understood Brodie – I was virtually living inside his head – I believed that I was tuned into his line of thought and fully understood his (sometimes drastic) actions. I didn't know how was all going to play out but I really wanted some closure, some happiness for Brodie. And did I shed a tear when I reached the end? Yes, I'm afraid I did.

    Another superb offering form this brilliantly gifted writer, who I've admired for some years. I've now read a dozen or so of his books and I'm blown away by his inventiveness, the diversity of his stories and above all the way in which, in his best work, he invites the reader to become a part of the story – to become, in fact, the lead character and to experience their life as if it were your own. Quite a trick that.

    My sincere thanks to Penguin Books UK and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  • SueKich

    William Boyd writes a story of love and great passion set at the turn of the last century. Brodie Moncur, son of an overbearing patriarchal clergyman, has a particularly musical ear. His work as a highly skilled piano tuner takes him to Paris and beyond, fine-tuning the instruments of the great concert pianists of their day. On one such occasion, he meets Russian opera singer Lika Blum, mistress of a now-fading Irish pianist, and falls madly in love with her. Their affair must be c

    William Boyd writes a story of love and great passion set at the turn of the last century. Brodie Moncur, son of an overbearing patriarchal clergyman, has a particularly musical ear. His work as a highly skilled piano tuner takes him to Paris and beyond, fine-tuning the instruments of the great concert pianists of their day. On one such occasion, he meets Russian opera singer Lika Blum, mistress of a now-fading Irish pianist, and falls madly in love with her. Their affair must be conducted in secret.

    Boyd is a natural storyteller who conjures up whole other worlds in which his readers can thoroughly immerse themselves. And this is no exception. One might assume the work of a piano tuner to be a dry subject but in Boyd’s hands it becomes fascinating. And as he describes these procedures of “elaborate precision”, it strikes me that this is what he gives his readers: precisely crafted novels of intricate complexity.

    In Brodie Moncur, he has created a sympathetic and likeable hero, although Lika, his great love, is less convincing. (One never quite gets a handle on her but this may well be the author’s intention.) The relationship between Brodie and his father, the “domestic potentate”, is one of the more intriguing aspects of this book and I would have liked to see this more fully explored. Just why does Malky Moncur resent his son so?

    All in all, this is a highly enjoyable and diverting read that takes in Edinburgh and Paris, Nice and St Petersburg, dampers and hammer-heads, jealousy and plagiarism, contemporary complaints and human conundrums.

    My grateful thanks to Viking for the ARC.

  • Paromjit

    This has all the inimitable style and qualities of an epic character driven William Boyd novel, of love, passion, obsession and music within a historical period presaging the great changes in the world at the end of the nineteenth century. This is a beautifully written and structured story of the life of the young Scottish Brodie Moncur, afflicted with health issues, employed at the Channon Piano Company in Edinburgh, when he is offered the opportunity to work in their Paris outlet which he ferv

    This has all the inimitable style and qualities of an epic character driven William Boyd novel, of love, passion, obsession and music within a historical period presaging the great changes in the world at the end of the nineteenth century. This is a beautifully written and structured story of the life of the young Scottish Brodie Moncur, afflicted with health issues, employed at the Channon Piano Company in Edinburgh, when he is offered the opportunity to work in their Paris outlet which he fervently grasps with both hands. It means that he can escape the clutches of his unbearably grotesque, hypocrital and bullying preacher father, Malky. The source of the rancour that Malky directs towards his son is not made clear. This is a tale that features numerous locations including Europe, Russia and the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, taking in music, love, betrayal, revenge, and secrets with its wide cast of characters.

    Brodie is a gifted piano tuner, and Boyd goes into some depth to give us detailed insights of all that this involves. The ambitious and energetic Brodie is inspired to move the business in innovative and risky new directions, despite obstacles, in his efforts to increase sales when he brings in the talented pianist, John Kilbarron, 'The Irish Liszt'. Kilbarron's amour is the beautifully arresting Russian opera singer, Lika Blum, a woman Brodie falls for hook, line and sinker, a passion that will have devastating repercussions on his future. Malachi, Kilbarron's brother and business manager is a particularly brutal and malign presence. Boyd delineates Brodie's relationship through the years, his travels, the dangers, a man that gambles with his own system.

    Boyd presents us with a chaotic and challenging life conjured by the blindness of love in all its aspects and how it shapes up to be infinitely testing of the human heart. This is a fabulously immersive read, set in turbulent times for the world, a turbulence that is mirrored in the gripping and compelling Brodie's life with the enigmatic Lika. A particular highlight for me was Boyd's skill in making the era come alive with his rich vibrant descriptions. An emotionally affecting and memorable book. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Penguin UK for an ARC.

  • Silvia

    *3.5*

    "Love is Blind" is the bittersweet story of Brodie Moncur, a young Scotish man who fixes pianos for a job, in the late 1800s. But the new century is coming, and so are a lot of changes in Brodie's life. He will fall deeply in love with a Russian soprano, Lika, and this love will perpetuate for all his life, through thick and thin, and through difficulti but wonderful times.

    I must admit that I've nev

    *3.5*

    "Love is Blind" is the bittersweet story of Brodie Moncur, a young Scotish man who fixes pianos for a job, in the late 1800s. But the new century is coming, and so are a lot of changes in Brodie's life. He will fall deeply in love with a Russian soprano, Lika, and this love will perpetuate for all his life, through thick and thin, and through difficulti but wonderful times.

    I must admit that I've never read anything by William Boyd, I requested a digital copy of this book only becuase I'm a sucker for historical ficiton set in the 1800s in England, but this story is so much more.

    First of all because it is set all around the world, and that solely is truly fascinating. And Boyd has a wonderful way with words. He has the magical ability to create vivid settings (more than vivid characters), and for this reason I was fully in the story.

    The characters were a little bit flat in my opinion. The love in the title really is blind, cause the two main characters meet once and are already in love, but I can get over that, it seems believable considering the strong passions of that time. Love was very different from what we experience today, and at the same time purer, in my opinion.

    Lika was... Lika. I didn't truly comprehend her reasons and the plot twist was a little bit predictable for me, we had all the clues, but at the same time I truly don't understand why she did what she did.

    The story in certain points seemed to drag a little too much for my tastes, and the same events took place over and over again. And then again.

    The ending too was quite clichey but at the same time frustrating.

    But beside that I'm glad I've read this book, it's a fascinating story for sure, set in a wonderful time in our history.

  • Chrissie

    Look at the title, it says it all. This is first and foremost a love story, or rather, multiple love stories. Set at the turn of the 19th century, it is a period piece drawing the life of a Scot, Brodie Moncur. Look at the surname; if one is acquainted with French, one sees there a play on words. We follow Brodie from 1888, when he is eighteen, to 1906, in his mid-thirties, and from Edinburgh to Paris to Geneva to Nice to St. Petersburg to Biarritz to Vienna to Graz to Trieste to finally the Nic

    Look at the title, it says it all. This is first and foremost a love story, or rather, multiple love stories. Set at the turn of the 19th century, it is a period piece drawing the life of a Scot, Brodie Moncur. Look at the surname; if one is acquainted with French, one sees there a play on words. We follow Brodie from 1888, when he is eighteen, to 1906, in his mid-thirties, and from Edinburgh to Paris to Geneva to Nice to St. Petersburg to Biarritz to Vienna to Graz to Trieste to finally the Nicobar and Andaman Islands. Traveling from place to place we see the world he sees, and this

    enjoyable. The descriptions are delightful, accurate both in their detail and in their relaying of historical events of the time. The world of music and food and liquor and sex fill the pages.

    Brodie is a piano tuner gifted with absolute pitch. He has fallen rapturously in love with Lika Blum, a Russian soprano. It is just that there are numerous impediments to their love. We meet John Kilbarron, the so-called Irish Liszt, as well as his brother. One flips between sensual love scenes and suspense. One discovers what a “Lika kiss” is! There is a duel and one is battling consumption, a horrifyingly frightening disease.

    The plot plods on toward the conclusion, but one

    curious to discover how it will end. The ending is appropriate and the writing elegant. Along the way there are twists and turns and explanations that add credibility. For example, it made perfect sense to me that Brodie came to be

    .

    I listened to the audiobook narrated by Roy McMillan. At the beginning, I found it to be overdramatized. Also, the Scottish accent gave me trouble. The volume varied from too low one minute to too high the next. As one continues these problems disappear. French, German and Italian are all well performed. The more I was caught up in the story, the more I enjoyed the narration. The narration I have given four stars.

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  • Paul Fulcher

    In the TLS's recent Booker 50th anniversary edition, various past winners were asked about underrated authors that should have featured more in the prize's reckoning.

    suggested:

    (

    In the TLS's recent Booker 50th anniversary edition, various past winners were asked about underrated authors that should have featured more in the prize's reckoning.

    suggested:

    (

    )

    This commendation drew me to Boyd's new novel, Love is Blind, but I would be very surprised if it caused this year's panel to tary long in their deliberations.

    It's a straightforward (overly so) historical romance, set around the turn of the 19th Century around Europe, particularly in Scotland, Russia, Paris and the French coast (Nice, Biarritz).

    In the late 1890s, Brodie Moncur is an expert piano tuner, working for a Edinburgh based piano manufacturer, and when the chance arises for him to move to Paris to try to reinvigorate their showroom there he grasps it with both hands. There he meets and forms a business venture with John Kilbarron–“The Irish Liszt” - a brilliant pianist but with fading powers, but their professional relationship is soured as Brodie falls in love with Kilbarron's muse, the soprano Lika Brum. As the novel progresses, Moncur travels across Europe, finding work wherever he goes, following Lika, and pursued in turn by Kilbarron's vengeful brother and business manager, Malachi.

    Boyd's descriptive prose is his strong point, conjuring up the sights and sounds of the places and time:

    And he - via Lika's observation - particularly effectively compares the Scottish highlands to the Russian steppe:

    But Boyd is rather less successful conveying the historical background to the era, which is simply dropped in as lists of background events whenever Brodie picks up a newspaper:

    And the plot itself, while a reasonable page turner, was a little overwrought and contrived for my literary taste.

    A couple of particular bugbears for me in the book - although in each case one hopes the author was aware even if the characters aren't.

    First, at one key point, Brodie's tyrannical father, Malky Moncur, a famously impassioned, if rather hypocritical, preacher, bases a sermon on an Apocryphal text to indirectly condemn his son: but the verses quoted bear no resemblance to any version of Baruch 6 I have seen (did Malky simply invent them? or Boyd?)

    The second bothered me more. As Brodie and Lika travel around, the novel tells us

    Brodie describes his 'foolproof' system:

    Except of course this system is based on a mathematical fallacy. Even if the chances of winning were genuinely 2-to-1 (in practice, roulette is biased to the house) the expected winnings are zero. The last sentence highlights why - you don't just need a 'substantial float', you need an infinite one (and a casino prepared to extend you infinite credit lines). Sooner or later, the gambler will lose his entire float, the losses from which will balance out the modest winnings. I assumed that the flaw in the system would ultimately form a key plot point - but when it didn't it caused me to wonder if the author saw the flaw.

    Overall, a pleasant but not particularly stimulating read. 3 stars less one for the dubious scriptural and mathematical references.

    Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.

  • Roman Clodia

    Well, there are ways to write about physical love, lust and desire but this isn't it - for me, at any rate. Boyd's prose is no more than workmanlike in this book which manages to be both bogged down in detail (why do we need to know precisely which brand of cigarettes each character

    Well, there are ways to write about physical love, lust and desire but this isn't it - for me, at any rate. Boyd's prose is no more than workmanlike in this book which manages to be both bogged down in detail (why do we need to know precisely which brand of cigarettes each character smokes? Oh yes, because Boyd researched them) and simultaneously skim the surface when it comes to the personal relationships supposedly at the heart of this book. I never felt, either, that these were people who had grown up in the Victorian period or late nineteenth century - the way they think, speak and act feels utterly contemporary.

    The musical backdrop is done well but everything else felt overdramatic, almost operatic, but without the fantasy element that opera uses to, paradoxically, make us 'believe':

    .

    To me this feels overly simple and simplistic in writing and imaginative vision. There are lots of female breasts (lots) and quite a lot of masturbation (not explicit) all of which render sex as a transaction rather than something more emotional, no matter how many times Brodie swears his undying (ha!) love to Lika: 'Brodie kept a running calculation: from September 1898 to May 1899 - no sexual congress with Lika... masturbation was only the briefest consolation.'

    On the plus side, there's quite a lot of story here as the tale sweeps from Edinburgh to Paris to St Petersburg and then swoops off to the Andaman Islands. Personally, I found the whole thing rather thin and uninvolving - as an evocation of erotic love, I didn't believe this for a second.

    Thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley

  • Sid Nuncius

    I enjoyed parts of Love Is Blind, but I found a good deal of it dull and I’m not sure that it added up to much in the end.

    The book follows Brodie Moncur from his early working life in the late 19th Century as a talented piano-tuner in Edinburgh as his work and his health needs take him to various places in France, Russia and beyond. He develops an obsessive love for a Russian singer and this is both the driver of the book’s events and the main subject of William Boyd’s interest.

    For the first th

    I enjoyed parts of Love Is Blind, but I found a good deal of it dull and I’m not sure that it added up to much in the end.

    The book follows Brodie Moncur from his early working life in the late 19th Century as a talented piano-tuner in Edinburgh as his work and his health needs take him to various places in France, Russia and beyond. He develops an obsessive love for a Russian singer and this is both the driver of the book’s events and the main subject of William Boyd’s interest.

    For the first third or so of the book I was carried along by Boyd’s easy prose and the interest which, slightly surprisingly, I found in the details of Brodie technical work on pianos. The trouble is, I wasn’t very convinced by Brodie’s passion and found that I was more interested in his piano-tuning than the state of his heart. I got no real sense of obsession and I also found it completely un-erotic, despite some fairly graphic descriptions. This is not a good combination in a tale of overmastering passion and as the story moved from place to place I kept thinking, "OK, you're somewhere else now and you're still in love with her. And…?” I wasn’t drawn in by the period setting, either. The language isn’t always convincing and there are some rather clunky references to contemporary events and so on.

    Things picked up a little in the later part of the book with some more dramatic developments and sense of threat, but it still wasn’t all that involving. It wasn’t helped by a somewhat melodramatic feel and in the end I was quite glad to finish the book, whose emotional climax didn’t affect me in the slightest, I’m afraid, because it felt contrived and overdone. Love Is Blind is by no means terrible, but it certainly isn’t one of Boyd’s best and I can only give it a very lukewarm recommendation.

    (My thanks to Penguin for an ARC via NetGalley.)

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