The Dwarves of Death, by Jonathan Coe

William is a keyboardist playing with a band who don't seem to be getting anywhere. His manager is looking after another band, and suggests that since they need a keyboardist, William might be able to step in. But on the night of the audition, William witnesses what appears to be a bizarre incident, and his life takes on a nightmare quality as he tries to work out what's going on.

There is the makings of a slightly convoluted plot here, but unlike House of Sleep, for example, it doesn't play out so stylishly, and Coe resorts to having someone explain with a "what happened was..." section at the end.

That having been said, the book was very readable, and contains the wit and poignancy that you might expect: William is dating Madeline, but it's a strange relationship and although he's devoted to her, she is frustratingly distant and non-commital about how she feels. Rather like Ben Trotter, William writes music for her, with predictable results.

There were some good set pieces though: William's conversations, carried out with notes on the kitchen table, with his flatmate; a diatribe against bus journeys, and this, when his band is playing his new composition for the first time

'That sounded ... just great, boys, but do you think we could get back to my song?'
'That was your song," sad Martin.
'It was?'
'Those are the chords you've written here.' He showed me the chord sheet. 'E and F sharp, right?'
'Well ... nearly, Martin, nearly. You see, what we actually have here is an E minor nine, and an F sharp minor seven. You were playing major chords.'
'Does it make a difference?'
'Well, technically - yes. You see, they have different notes in them.'
'I think we should keep things simple.'
'Simplicity's great, Martin. I'm all for simplicity. Don't get me wrong. It's just that what you were playing, from a - well, from a musical point of view, really - is completely different from what I wrote.'

Completed : 29-Nov-2008

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