Fourteen-year-old Luke Stanton’s father, Matthew, was a brilliant pianist, a gift his son has inherited. Luke does not cope well with his father’s death, though, and gets involved with a gang of boys who cause trouble and steal around their village. When he reluctantly breaks into an old lady’s house to steal a box, he is caught by her and has to agree to come back and play the piano for her blind and handicapped granddaughter. He undergoes internal conflicts over his relationship with his mother, his acceptance of his gift of music, the need to keep secret his involvement with the gang and with the old lady and her granddaughter, and above all his strange ability to hear the music of the world, to sense things much more deeply than most people, another gift which his father also had.
This novel runs on several levels: on the one level, it is the story of a gifted boy and his mother coming to terms with his father’s death; on another level, it portrays the struggles and conflicts of any teenage boy; finally, and somewhat mystically, it tries to make the case that it is music which is at the heart of the universe.
Luke’s mother is a source of attraction to the men in the village, and in fact she does (presumably) sleep with the one whom she is closest to. Mrs Little, the old lady in the story, has in fact kept the handicapped child whom she found lying by the roadside after an accident. Her own husband died during the war and she had longed for a child. Although initially intending to return the child to her parents, she changes her mind and decides to pass her off as her own granddaughter. Delight in music is at the heart of the protagonist’s character and that of several others. The author proposes the notion of the whole existence as a piece of music being played. This isn’t necessarily at odds with belief in God, but might benefit from some discussion.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.