On returning from a short holiday in the City of Light, I was full of admiration of the French, their way of life and their truly beautiful ‘Capitale’. In an attempt to prolong my feeling of being in Paris, I hunted out some literature on the city. One of the first things I found was this book – ‘The Piano Shop on the Left Bank’. With music being my passion (and a pianist too, into the bargain), how could I possibly resist this?
What American T E Carhart has written here is an intriguing true account of his experience of buying a piano in France which reignites his passion for the instrument, alongside a tantalising glimpse into the lifestyles and habits of Parisians. From the mystery of the piano shop and Carhart’s attempts to become part of the inner circle, to the blossoming friendship between author and Luc (the atelier), and the solid trust they gradually build up in each other, this is a gentle, comforting read. Playing the piano affects one on a spiritual and an inspirational level and for any non-musician reading, the author is gets this across charmingly. Reading this book summons similar emotions, such is its good natured-ness.
Although Paris runs inescapably through this uplifting book, it is not the main thrust here- pianos are. Much time is devoted to different makes and their idiosyncrasies, whilst littered with anecdotes about teachers, performers and fellow learners all with the same thing in common – the love of those 88 keys. Really, the premise of this book shouldn’t work – a tale of an ordinary man who buys a piano and relearns how to play – there is no real plot, just everyday life ticking by. But it is exactly that that makes it work. In describing the characters so well, from the enigmatic Luc, to the oft drunken piano tuner, Jos, Carhart brings you straight into that world. All of their ways are laid out lovingly before you. It’s an insight into the passion of the piano which the author has in abundance and the quaint, traditional world that Luc, Jos, Mathilde and company inhabit.
As the book draws to a natural close and we reach what seems a good place to leave everyone, really you know the journey is not going to end for anyone involved – new pianos will be found, tried and cherished. It’s a refreshing, light and wholly satisfying read, and like your favourite piece of piano music, should just make you feel very content.