A gothic retelling of the myth of Faust, set in Hungary in the 1970s and 1990s.
Eighteen-year-old Sandor Esterhazy, rich and entitled, is descended from a long line of talented pianists, but he has no intention of following in their footsteps. One afternoon, in a fit of pique, he calls up the devil, using an old book of magic spells, and offers to exchange his soul for a life free to choose his own destiny. Afterward, Sandor laughs it off as a joke, but that night he sees the shape of a man approaching the house. He is dragging someone – or something – behind him through the snow. Sandor goes down to the piano room. The devil has delivered a bare-foot young man who Sandor instantly recognizes. But what is this creature? And what exactly is to be done with him?
Overall this was a beautiful book to read, but it was definitely one that took me a while to really get into. It took a couple of tries, but once I was caught up in the characters and the story I wasn’t going anywhere. This haunting retelling of the myth of Faust is gripping, and tense to the very end.
As a retelling of the Faust myth I think this novel held up really well. I studied Marlowe’s Dr Faustus in university as well as some other versions of the myth which made me familiar with the premise for this novel before I’d even started reading. It helped for me to really immerse myself in the setting and atmosphere of the story. This has become a favourite retelling of mine of this particular myth. Velentza kept what was important to make the myth visible within the story but twisted the rest beautifully to enrich the story and make it her own.
This story was told from two different perspectives in two separate times, making the narrative a little difficult for me to follow early on even though I was already familiar with the basis for the story. Once I had settled into the voice of each character and the two very different settings they were in came to love the two perspectives I was reading. Though as always, for me, with multiple point of view novels I tend to favour one point of view over the other. In this case it was Ferdi and his focus on trying to understand his past, as well as the truth of his existence – there is something about his very inhuman creation that made his character’s voice much more interesting for me to read. I did wonder how this novel would read if it was in complete chronological order, but I feel that the two perspectives over two different times adds to the mystery as well as the overall spooky atmosphere of the book.
Ferdi’s development throughout the novel was something I found most interesting as he grappled with the truth of his existence and tried to make his life his own. Though music was something he has to do, he makes it his own, and brings him connections with people he didn’t think he ever would. This is especially true of the slow building romance that builds between Ferdi and another character (that I won’t name, because of spoilers), as Ferdi doesn’t trust himself, nor does he believe a creature of his nature should be able to have a relationship that close. At first I felt the romance didn’t fit with the tale, but as it progressed I realised just how important it was to Ferdi’s character growth. I loved this almost unexpected part of the novel, it, along with Ferdi’s music, brought a little bit of hope to an otherwise rather grim tale.
The Piano Room is the perfect book to curl up and read on a cold winter night from the comfort of your preferred reading nook with a good blanket and a cup of tea. The language draws you into the haunted and spooky atmosphere of this novel in such a way that you start to feel the cold yourself. That is something I loved about this novel; that while I couldn’t always connect with the characters – something which I usually rely on for my enjoyment of a book – this lack of connection was made up for in the haunting gothic atmosphere. I reccommend this novel to lovers of gothic fiction, and to those who are looking for a fresh retelling of a familiar myth.
Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for sending me this free eARC (eAdvanced Reader Copy), I am leaving this review voluntarily. This title will be published 30th September 2021.