I picked up this book from one of the libraries on a whim, even as I was pulling books from one of my all-time favourite authors. (More about that another time). It was the piano on the cover that drew me. You see, I’m a pianist. And the main character, Max Randal, is a professional pianist, a virtuoso in the likes of Rubinstein, who’s come up against a wall. He hasn’t performed in four years, and will give a big one at Carnegie Hall in a comeback after four years of finding himself.
The plot sounded rather intriguing, how with his history of wives comes back to haunt him. In short, it’s about a rather self-absorbed performer who, in his search for perfection, never finds it.
What I liked:
Author Nicholas Christopher really did his homework about preparing for the stage. I’ve done some performing myself, and fully identify with how emotions are so important for making music. We can practice all we want, develop all the technical abilities we want. But if there are no emotions, then all we get is a concert by someone who plays the piano really really well. Pianists (and in fact, all instrumental musicians) face the challenge of connecting to people. There’s got to be something other than the tones and sounds to make CDs fly off the shelves.
The other thing Christopher nailed was how important fear is to a performance. Fear generates adrenalin, and that makes the performer push him/herself, sometimes to the point of nausea or giddiness. But this was the final missing element that Randal was looking for through his months of tortured practice. He got the notes, the phrasing, the emotions. But until he stepped onto the stage and heard the adoring applause from the audience, he couldn’t deliver.
What didn’t work for me:
Nicholas Christopher also did study into psychological theories. The fantastical backstories made Randal a little difficult to relate to, but that arrogance and stand-offishness was needed to make this plot sing. The real problem for me is Christopher follows major episodes in Randal’s life with a pedantic one-to-two paragraph explanation of psychological theories. And we’re not talking short paragraphs. Written as a psychology textbook, that makes it more fun. But as a piece of fiction that serves to break the flow, and brings the lecture into leisure reading.
I guess I should cut Christopher some slack, seeing from GoodReads that this is his first novel. But will I recommend this book to anyone? Well, only if they’re a beginning psychology student, or want to understand how emotions can make such a difference.
Mimosa’s rating of The Soloist: 2.5/5