The Piano Player

Written by Maybelle Wallis
Review by Carol McGrath

The Piano Player is a thoroughly researched and impressive Irish novel from Poolbeg Press, which always publishes quality novels. It is cleverly plotted, addressing historical events in mid-19th-century Ireland: the effects of rack renting on a population crippled by the effects of potato famines, emigration on coffin ships, political oppression and repression, poverty in Dublin tenements, cholera and typhoid, struggling hospitals and rising freedom movements.

Jane, a talented piano player, is married to a handsome, famous actor who is also a compulsive gambler. She has a past, as has William, a doctor in a Dublin fever hospital, who once loved Jane and still does. This romantic theme twists its way through an otherwise gritty and thrilling novel inhabited by greedy and dangerous cheats, and the noble poor, and by ruthless scoundrels, including William’s superior, who is so threatening that the reader will breathlessly turn pages praying that he will be exposed.

he Piano Player also contains a gallery of convincing supporting characters, developed and portrayed with depth. Of course, we root for William and Jane, the book’s protagonists. Scene-setting is as vivid as the set of a Sean O’Casey play. The writer came at this terrific story from an unusual and interesting perspective. Her author notes and bibliography are worth reading, too.

This novel has great heart and humanity and contains a meticulously plotted narrative that kept this reviewer turning pages until, at last, all its themes come together in a satisfying ending. It is a story for our times.