by Ivan Radev
When Tim agrees to help his friend, Josh, tune an old piano in a rundown building that Josh aims to turn into a pub, little does Tim realise that within moments the piano would take second place to a strange, otherworldly instrument played by an even stranger young woman who immediately entrances him…
The Instrument is a curious novella that is elegantly written and all-involving. The beginning is written in a chatty, conversational and contemporary style but rapidly becomes eerily surreal as Tim stumbles on Elisa Mayer and the haunting melody she plays on the instrument. She is a beguiling character and the stuff of fairy stories. Indeed, once Tim has met the rest of the Mayer family, the prose is strongly redolent of a Gothic Germanic folk-tale/horror. The writing is darkly archaic and atmospheric; it works very well and is skilfully done. The Mayer family are well-depicted and Albert, the Butler is both sinister and endearing. The scene with him serving plates on his back, I found horribly compelling and nastily visual.
As Tim becomes obsessively engrossed in solving the ancient curse of The Mayers in order to save the one he loves, the prose becomes more intricate and the story intriguingly bizarre. The reader is completely taken out of the original contemporary context and the tale exists in a space that is not subject to the vagaries of time or its passage. This timeless, nebulous setting nicely complements the ethereal nature of the melody that Tim needs to fulfil on the instrument. As we draw to the conclusion, the reader is privy to Tim’s internal monologues as he tries to overcome the curse and descends into near-madness. Occasionally, these stream of consciousness passages become a little indulgent but, overall, the writing is profound. The ending was a surprise and possibly not as strong as it could have been although I understand from the Author that there may be a further instalment and it was, therefore, deliberately left open-ended.
The Instrument is a wonderfully imaginative and captivating work of literary fiction. Highly recommended.