Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Piano Man's Daughter by Timothy Findley

Upon the death of his mother, Lily, in 1939, Charlie Kilworth receives a wicker suitcase full of carefully collected mementoes of her life. Each item in the suitcase helps him to tell Lily's life story, which is also the story of Lily's mother, Edith, and the story of Charlie himself. Lily lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in rural Ontario, eventually moving to Toronto, and in the background of Lily's life we see the huge changes in Ontario society during that time - the increased use of motorized vehicles, the dawning of the radio era, the great Toronto fire of 1904, and of course, World War I and its aftermath. Gradually, Charlie pieces together the important elements of his mother's story, and begins to understand the experiences that made her the person she was.

While this book was beautifully written (and thus quite painless to read), I can't say that I really liked it. There wasn't much of a plot (you don't often see those in a "life story" type of novel) and I didn't care much about Lily. As a character she is not someone I could identify or sympathize with - she is mentally ill, epileptic, reckless and a pyromaniac to boot. Ultimately, Findley and his narrator, Charlie, fail to answer the fundamental question I have about novels like this - Why should I care about this person's life enough to want to read about it?

1 comment:

Laura said...

While I haven't read this book yet (it's on my shelf though), I agree with your comments in general. It is really difficult to care about a novel when you don't care about the characters, especially a "life story" type of book. And while beautiful writing is beautiful writing, truly great writing is about more -- strong characters, a strong story -- something that is more than a writer showing off his/her flare with words.