...riveting ... Boyd has written a novel that manages to be expansive and intimate, potent and poignant. It confidently sprawls across Europe while cunningly tapping into Scottish literature and folklore. It keeps us rapt and emotionally invested. Once again, this maestro hits all the right notes.
This is a 'play it again, Sam' kind of production, the novelistic equivalent of the showy orchestral chestnut 'Pines of Rome.' Love Is Blind goes down easy, its pleasures are vaguely guilty, and upon setting it down, it swiftly vanishes from the mind ... But there’s no philosophical armature to Love Is Blind, only the most convoluted of bildungsromans ... There are halfhearted efforts to place the plot vividly in its time ... the book’s promise of eroticism ends up involving only some risible sex writing ... it’s depressing that he [Boyd] thought that classical music would be the perfectly complementary subject matter, as lovably hoary as the narrative style he is pantomiming. In any case, however, there are only flickers of the charm you would want to steadily emanate from such a period production. Love Is Blind eventually reminded me of a tired revival of one of Franco Zeffirelli’s decades-old, hyper-naturalistic stagings for the Metropolitan Opera: all surface detail, no life.
The novel opens in 1894 with the 24-year-old Brodie working at Channon’s piano shop in Edinburgh...Brodie’s entrepreneurial flair is soon recognized by the head of the company, who sends him to run their Paris branch and expand their business there...Brodie meets Lydia Blum, a Russian soprano destined to be the love of his life, although their affair results in them going on the run in fear of their lives ... Boyd writes these passages superbly, so that even if you know nothing about pianos they are still fascinating ... The novel teems with extraneous characters and details—visits to prostitutes, an alcoholic brother, a young rich Russian bohemian intellectual. Few of them are necessary to the narrative, but all add to its compelling realism.
Despite its curiously bad title, this is an urbane, silkily written romance enlivened by late-in-the-day plot twists. The period detail is authoritative—you’ll close the book with a cache of unexpected knowledge about the tobacco, the spectacles and the concert pianos of the era—but rarely cumbersome. If anything, Love Is Blind moves along too quickly, the narrow focus on Brodie and Lika’s dangerous affair making the story somewhat one-dimensional. Like Kilbarron’s playing, this is a performance that puts speed and dazzle over depth. Why not? If you’ve got a gift, flaunt it.
On the surface Love Is Blind has all the hallmarks of a slow-burning thriller—the event-packed story of a single decade in Brodie’s life ... William Boyd’s layered and intricate novel begins close to its end point, with a brief prologue in the form of a 1906 letter from a British penal colony in the Bay of Bengal. In it, an American anthropologist called Page Arbogast tells her sister, Amelia, about the recent arrival of a new assistant, 'a tall young Scotsman, about thirty-five years old, called Brodie Moncur'. Exactly what Brodie is doing there is a mystery that will remain unresolved for almost the entire book ... There are moments when the plot feels overwrought and doesn’t quite convince; Malachi’s psychology, for example, is too glibly explained, and the last few lines are unnecessary and overly neat. Nevertheless, Boyd’s drama builds powerfully towards its ending, when at last Brodie arrives in the Bay of Bengal, and where he unwittingly mouths (in German) some of Chekhov’s own words. In its poignant closing scenes, the book balances the sad and ordinary randomness of life—its bathos even—with a kind of transcendence born out of Brodie’s longing. It’s a finely judged performance: a deft and resonant alchemy of fact and fiction, of literary myth and imagination.
Boyd has long been a master of the technical aspects of fiction-writing, and in Love is Blind this is again in evidence: plotting, pacing and historical detail are all adroitly handled, and he succeeds in making the world of piano tuning—as well as the wider milieu of fin de siècle Europe—come alive. But when it comes to emotion, he is less sure-footed. It’s not that anything is obviously terrible; there are no embarrassing sex scenes, no overly florid descriptions of Brodie and Lika’s liaisons. The problem is the opposite: Boyd writes about love with a certain limiting briskness, and this means that the reader never gets drawn into the full intensity of Brodie and Lika’s affair ... None of this prevents Love is Blind from being extremely enjoyable. It is a novel with more than enough else in it—from early morning duels to extensive descriptions of restaurant meals—to keep readers absorbed.
Whether describing a lethal standoff or a bloody visitation, Boyd holds us fast, fixing our gaze on details that are startlingly fresh even as he tells a story that we seem to know well ... [Brodie] does leave, this time forever, a fugitive of sorts covering his tracks in various European cities before alighting—the novel’s only stumble—in Trieste, where things become briefly silly...
Boyd...is exceptionally good at evoking a vivid sense of place. He takes us to the gloomy Scottish countryside and the Mediterranean shores of Nice, enveloping the reader in a time in European history when horses are being replaced by cars, women still have few choices, and men can settle their feuds without the interference of law.
William Boyd...delivers again in Love Is Blind ... 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.
Moving from Edinburgh in 1894 to the far-flung Andaman Islands in 1906, and smoothly landing in various European cities in between, Boyd’s affecting novel follows a young Scotsman’s ardent pursuit of a woman and its treacherous consequences ... Boyd beautifully paints the settings and the moods they evoke while sending readers on Brodie’s adventurous, troublesome, and transformative journey.
After 14 novels and many literary prizes, Boyd’s storytelling abilities are beyond dispute and are clearly on display in this latest tale that follows its hero, Brodie Moncur, on a restless journey from Scotland to Europe and beyond as the 19th century shades into the 20th ... Promoted to a post at the new Paris showroom, Brodie suggests that the company widen its name recognition by giving an instrument to a famous concert pianist, which is how he comes to meet John Kilbarron, 'the Irish Liszt,' and his lovely Russian girlfriend, Lika. It’s Brodie’s all-consuming love for Lika which now propels the story forward, as he loses his job at Channon’s and joins Kilbarron and his entourage on a luxurious sponsored trip to pre-revolutionary Russia ... All for Love or The Road Not Taken might have served as alternate titles for this largely good-humored, not especially deep-digging, quality entertainment.
Boyd’s lively 15th novel careens across the world following a consumptive, dueling, romantic piano tuner named Brodie Moncur. In a wild story whose prose reads as if written in 1888, this seasoned author’s handsome protagonist flees his oppressive Scottish family, first to Edinburgh, where he goes to work for Channon & Co. Sent to Paris by his boss, Ainsley Channon, to boost piano sales, Brodie’s career is sabotaged by Channon’s thieving son, Calder ... Complicating matters is Brodie’s tuberculosis, a constant threat that dials up the book’s tension and, along with an old-fashioned duel in St. Petersburg, allows the author a few action scenes. This man-on-the-run tale, which wraps up at one exotic end of the Earth, is strangely ageless and very entertaining.