Title: The Pianist in the Dark
Author: Michèle Halberstadt
Genre: Fiction ~ Historical
Rating Out of Five: 4
Maria-Theresa von Paradis, the only daughter of the secretary to the empress of Austria is a musical prodigy. By the age of seventeen she is full-fledged virtuoso, playing for high society, including the royal family. She is renowned for her beauty and her talent but most known for the fact that she is blind. Her father is unable to accept her blindness despite how well she plays the piano and for years has subjected her to all kinds of testing and procedures to cure her blindness. After promising his daughter no more he “subtly” seeks the help of Franz Anton-Mesmer, a doctor and practitioner of occult-like medicine. He is a man who loves a high social position and lets his pride run his life, his decisions. He has worked hard what he has achieved and he sees this blind girl as the means of winning over his colleagues once and for all with his questionable methods of treating illnesses. The last piece he needs to reach that élite pedestal. Maria-Theresa agrees to let Franz Anton-Mesmer attend to her blindness at the bidding of her father simply because she wants to get out from underneath her father’s thumb.
When I grabbed up this book I loved the idea of a blind piano player! This is a historical piece of fiction. The whole high society and aristocracy is usually not my scene as it usually just ends of pissing me off as women are there to look pretty and be quiet. With the main female character, Maria-Theresa, that was not the case. She had some fire that I really, really loved. I think she would have been a wonderful woman to have met in her time.
One of the only things that makes complete and utter sense to her is playing the piano. To her the music represents colours and feelings, they give her a way to visualize what she can not see. She feels that when she plays she is able to communicate that to all who are watching and listening to her as well. I think that this what every musician feels about their music, even in this day and age. It really is a beautiful thought, a rather naïve one, but certainly beautiful. And that is really the point of the story, a loss of innocence and a hard dose of reality.
At the beginning of this book Maria-Theresa is very naïve not necessary by choice but because of her situation. People were always kind to her or treated her as if she would break simply because she was blind. She never had an instance were someone was cruel to her for what they thought was good reason or just out of spite.
When she becomes Mesmer’s patient at his estate and slowly regains some of her sight her eyes are opened not only in the literal sense. She looses the gracefulness in which she used to move and talk, and everyday as her vision improves she feels more and more anxious and is uncertain why. But most importantly, she looses her ability to play the piano as her eyes continue to get better. For her this is devastating! She feels as if being able to see again is like living in her nightmares, that with her sight returning her dreams are ceasing to exist. It is at about this point in the book that doctor and patient lines become a giant blurring mess that they just decide to chuck in the trash and they become lovers. Which I definitely saw coming….
So ensues the best days of Maria-Theresa’s life, of course it corresponds with her obtaining her first lover. The best days of ones life certainly can’t be without a man to make it so right?!!?! *sheesh* sorry ending that small rant….
She is with a man (her first love) she loves, her vision is getting better, and he assures her (of course he does!! *lip curl*) that she’ll definitely be able to play the piano again. When her father demands that other doctors come to test his daughters sight to make sure that’s its true, Mesmer realizes that he needs to detach himself from Maria-Theresa as his career is now at stake and he could lose everything he has worked for and gained.
From this point on until she leaves his estate she focuses on learning as much as she can about everyday items and colours. She, also, starts playing the piano again but while wearing a blindfold so she can’t see her fingers. To those around her she seems to have resolved herself to a personal decision and seems more self-assured but she talks with no one of it.
This is one of my favourite parts in the book because as the reader you know what she has already decided to do and I love how she is already taking steps to do the thing that she wants most. She is now a woman who understands that just because someone cares for doesn’t mean they will do what they say or even what is right, despite saying that they love you. She has become more aware of the politics of high society, how some people play with others feelings or even careers simply because they can. She has lost the innocence she started out with in this book and it is replaced with a steely determination. When she leaves Mesmer’s estate and returns to her families countryside house she completely takes her future in her hands. She plays the part that society demands she play while in the company of her parents and other high society events but she works steadily towards what she wants for her future.
She becomes a renowned virtuoso, traveling all over Europe holding concerts and eventually opens up a music school for girls in Vienna. She lives the rest of her life devoted to music and piano and she dies doing what she loved doing.
This is a beautifully written story. While I loved the main female character immensely, I loved how she described everything even more. It was like she thought and then spoke with lyrics to what could be a song. Just a perfect amount of poetry balanced with the right descriptive words.
Now I have, personally, seen a lot of reviews for this book that utterly shoot it down. But, that has more to do with the fact that this story is loosely based off of true events of both main characters, Maria-Theresa and Mesmer. I didn’t know that these people existed in real life before I read the book, I thought I was just reading a made up story until I got to the end of it. So, if you are someone who hates conjecture then don’t read it because I doubt there is very little or no existing documentation to support what the author wrote in this book. I don’t care about stuff like that, I enjoyed the book and think others do and will too regardless of historical fact to back it up. I thought it was well written story, and as musician myself, I feel like the author captured how Maria-Theresa may have thought very accurately. To each their own though as interpretation will be different for everyone I think!