Maarten ’t Hart
The Night Tuner
An atmospheric love story about two people who find each other against all odds
Organ tuner Gabriel is sent by his employer from East Friesland to a small provincial town in South Holland. When he gets there, everything is foreign to him: the street names, the dreary clinking of anchor chains, the shrill sounds from the shipyards and factories, and most of all the people with their blunt, defensive answers to his questions.
He’s been asked to tune the church’s organ, built around 1730 by the famous organ builder Rudolf Garrels. Tuning these old organs is Gabriel’s speciality, but in order to do carry out his work, he needs an assistant who can press the keys of a certain stop while he adjusts the valves and pipes. Most assistants find the task of holding a single tone unbearably dull, but he’s been told that the sixteen-year-old girl recommended to him won’t mind. His client calls her mentally handicapped, but Gabriel soon notices that Lanna Edelenbos is incredibly musical and much smarter than the people around her think.
Lanna is accompanied by her mother, a moody Brazilian widow who, legend has it, was fished out of the sea by a captain while being chased by a crocodile. Gabriel soon falls for the widow Gracinha, taken by her beauty and her grammatically flawed but idiomatically rich way of speaking.
With all the noise around him, tuning becomes more difficult and certainly more time-consuming. Gabriel’s relationship with the widow is not appreciated by everyone. He starts being followed, receiving anonymous threats and is even pushed into the water at the harbour. The source of the danger turns out to be completely unexpected. Undaunted, our anti-hero manages to save himself by, among other things, hurling a colossal edition of the psalms by Johannes Worp. Ultimately, he leaves town with the greatest prize, the epitome of Brazilian beauty.
With his masterful use of language, particularly in capturing the voices of the townspeople and the widow and the outlandish atmosphere in the town, ’t Hart delivers a witty, typically Dutch version of Joanne Harris’s Chocolat novels or Marcel Pagnol’s films.