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The Upright Piano Player

Cover of The Upright Piano Player

The Upright Piano Player

A Novel
Borrow Borrow Borrow

An adroit first novel of exceptional grace and emotional power by a legendary British ad executive.

"David Abbott's The Upright Piano Player is a wise and moving debut, an accomplished novel of quiet depths and resonant shadows." --John Burnham Schwartz, author of The Commoner and Reservation Road


Henry Cage seems to have it all: a successful career, money, a beautiful home, and a reputation for being a just and principled man. But public virtues can conceal private failings, and as Henry faces retirement, his well-ordered life begins to unravel. His ex-wife is ill, his relationship with his son is strained to the point of estrangement, and on the eve of the new millennium he is the victim of a random violent act which soon escalates into a prolonged harassment.

As his ex-wife's illness becomes grave, it is apparent that there is little time to redress the mistakes of the past. But the man stalking Henry remains at large. Who is doing this? And why? David Abbott brilliantly pulls this thread of tension ever tighter until the surprising and emotionally impactful conclusion. The Upright Piano Player is a wise and acutely observed novel about the myriad ways in which life tests us--no matter how carefully we have constructed our own little fortresses.

From the Hardcover edition.

An adroit first novel of exceptional grace and emotional power by a legendary British ad executive.

"David Abbott's The Upright Piano Player is a wise and moving debut, an accomplished novel of quiet depths and resonant shadows." --John Burnham Schwartz, author of The Commoner and Reservation Road


Henry Cage seems to have it all: a successful career, money, a beautiful home, and a reputation for being a just and principled man. But public virtues can conceal private failings, and as Henry faces retirement, his well-ordered life begins to unravel. His ex-wife is ill, his relationship with his son is strained to the point of estrangement, and on the eve of the new millennium he is the victim of a random violent act which soon escalates into a prolonged harassment.

As his ex-wife's illness becomes grave, it is apparent that there is little time to redress the mistakes of the past. But the man stalking Henry remains at large. Who is doing this? And why? David Abbott brilliantly pulls this thread of tension ever tighter until the surprising and emotionally impactful conclusion. The Upright Piano Player is a wise and acutely observed novel about the myriad ways in which life tests us--no matter how carefully we have constructed our own little fortresses.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    London | November 1999

    By the time he finally left, the adulation was beginning to pall. There had been a month of farewells. Lunches every day, three dinners a week--all preceded or concluded with speeches and presentations. His clients had given him a gold pen; the staff, an antique watch, older than himself, but unlike himself, still burnished and bright. There had been photographs from his partners by names he revered: Doisneau, Bravo, Lartigue, all framed in oak, their certificates of authenticity housed modestly in brown manila envelopes. He was familiar with this trick of the rich, restraint adding to the value of the gifts, the generosity of the givers.

    There were books, too, first editions of novels he loved--Black Mischief  by Evelyn Waugh, published by Chapman and Hall in 1928 for 7/6, and now worth £400. They had found him a fine copy of Iris Murdoch's The Nice and the Good and presented it, he realized, with more than a touch of irony. There was a quince tree for his garden in London (to be lifted and planted at his command) and more than a hundred leaving cards and letters, many of great tenderness.

    At the presentations he looked into his lap as clients and colleagues chronicled his thirty years in the company. Occasionally, he glanced up to acknowledge a common memory or to share in the enjoyment of his own edgy wit recalled from earlier days. On the Wednesday of his final week, the company had hosted the official goodbye in the ballroom of the hotel across the square. At 5:00, the staff meandered across the road, latecomers dodging the traffic in their haste to secure a good seat. It was the end of an era, they had been saying in the corridors. Even the graduate trainees, who had joined the company just seven days earlier and had never actually met him, were caught up in the conflicting emotions of the day: sadness at his going, gratitude for all that he had done, but also excitement at the prospect of change.

    His three partners were eloquent, each generous with his praise. As he walked to the lectern to give his reply he was aware that everyone was standing. There was applause, a sea-roar in his ears, and he stood waiting for it to stop, smiling into the dark space above the heads of the audience.

    In the pub later, the video team said it had been the longest ovation they had ever filmed. "Not that there was much to film, Henry standing there for five minutes and the rest just clapping their heads off. And that was before he'd even said anything."

    He had worked hard on his speech. He knew they expected it to be the speech of a lifetime--quite literally the distillation of thirty years at the company, a list of do's and don'ts, a formula to keep things as they were--though in their hearts they must have known that was not possible, perhaps not even desirable. He knew it, too, and no longer wanted to make the speech of a leader. In the old days he would inspire them, lift their spirits, and send them back to their desks with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Now he simply wanted to say goodbye and slip away. Somehow he had found the right words and if the audience missed the old fire they had responded to the gentle sincerity of his farewell.

    On the Friday, the last day of a long week, Henry cleared his office. A tidy man on the surface, only he knew what chaos existed in the cupboards so exquisitely fronted with beech veneers and brushed aluminum. He threw out almost everything: letters, cards, documents, and photographs. Crates had been sent up to take the books that lined one wall of his office. His books had been a daily comfort, confirming that even in commerce there was room for contemplation....

About the Author-
  • DAVID ABBOTT worked for forty years in the advertising industry as a copywriter and creative director. He was a founding partner of Abbott Mead Vickers, Britain's largest advertising agency. This is his first novel, and he is at work on his second.

Reviews-
  • Los Angeles Times

    "How quickly a carefully constructed life can unravel! ... Abbott has peered over the edge to write this gripping novel, a reminder of how little control we have over our lives."

  • San Francisco Chronicle "Stirring ... Abbott has created a memorable book, and readers will ache along with the principal characters."
  • Associated Press "Gracefully constructed and wholly consuming."
  • Publishers Weekly "[A]n elegant debut filled with anguish and yearning ... Abbott takes these broken relationships and slowly works over their frayed ends with a delicate touch, sometimes mending them and other times hitting exposed nerves ... It's a very careful novel in its structure and revelations, but Abbott impresses most in his easy balance of the disparate plot elements ... and overarching themes of reconnection and regret."
  • Library Journal (starred review) "A powerful and well-written portrayal of loss and grieving. Highly recommended."
  • John Burnham Schwartz, author of The Commoner and Reservation Road "David Abbott's The Upright Piano Player is a wise and moving debut, an accomplished novel of quiet depths and resonant shadows."
  • The Guardian "A beautifully constructed debut."
  • The Independent "Elegant, rich and gratifying."
  • Daily Mail "The menace simmering beneath the surface of its prose is compelling."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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A Novel
David Abbott
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