The Pianoplayers

Anthony Burgess, Author
Anthony Burgess, Author Arbor House Publishing $16.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-87795-832-1
Reviewed on: 09/29/1986
Release date: 10/01/1986
Burgess's entertaining pen does not flag in this larky exercise in nostalgia. The slim novel is narrated by elderly but still beautiful Ellen Henshaw, born lower-class British but now retired in Provence after a career as an entrepreneurial prostitute. In a lusty, cynical voice, droll with casual obscenities and unwittingly vulgar vernacular, Ellen relates the story of her beloved ""poor old dad.'' A piano player (not a Pianist, she insists) for the old silent movies, Billy Henshaw was a genius before his time, according to Ellen, but drink, womanizing and false pride brought him down; all were responsible for his disastrous decision to take part in a brutal piano marathon. Ellen's rendition of their life in and out of seedy boarding houses, cinemas and music halls in Blackpool and Manchester is littered with malapropisms, the indiscriminate use of capital letters (``It's very hard to get away from Sex and I've never really tried'') and mangled French. There are some inspired set pieces here: an on-stage brawl during a vaudeville performance is broad farce; an account of a trip to Italy is Grand Guignol dark comedy. Burgess's little jokes (he includes a page of sheet music; Ellen reads le Carre for her insomnia, since he's ``a very dull writer who is good for sending you to sleep'') and his fondness for the ``good old days,'' give this novel a palpable charm. (October 22)
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