Music lovers unite – Maestro by Peter Goldsworthy

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Reviewed by Sheridan Wattle

In the “hothouse of Darwin”, drenched with monsoon rains and filled with bougainvillea begins Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy’s first novel to be published. Maestro is essentially a coming-of-age story, yet it is particular that the character of Paul, the protagonist, is largely defined through his teacher-student relationship with the virtuoso pianist, Herr Keller, also known as the Maestro.

The novel begins with the fifteen-year-old Paul discovering the thrills of adolescence, including his encounters with his school classmates and his mysterious piano teacher, Herr Keller. Paul’s coming-of-age is paralleled with his relentless search for musical perfection, for the essential difference between good and great pianists, “a tiny gulf that was the sum of a thousand infinitesimal differences”. In addition to this, there is Keller’s mysterious, shadowed past, involving his experiences during World War II.

The city of Darwin is colourfully depicted through the use of images, especially of the weather throughout the changing seasons that seems to bring out the worst in people. As the humidity rises towards the wet season, Keller forbids any emotional expression in his music and Paul’s father becomes uncharacteristically critical, referring to Darwin as “a city of booze, blow and blasphemy”.

Paul, the main character, is self-centred with an infallible sense of humour. By contrast, Keller is pessimistic, mysterious and reserved. At one stage, he advises Paul, “We must know when to move on. To search too long for perfection can paralyse”.

Structured in chronological order, Maestro is divided into categorised sections of Paul’s life. While the novel is clearly fictional, it is possible that elements of the story are based on the author’s experiences of living in Darwin.

Maestro explores the themes of music, contrasts, growing up and adolescence. However, the novel is not only for those who like classical music as there are many references to popular music as well.


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