I really struggled with this book to the point that I wondered what on earth was I thinking when I bought it. I was probably hooked by the title and the idea that piano lessons could be subversive, and maybe the comparison to Sarah Waters. Maybe it was the promise that it was original and dark, or the Virago Apple on the spine.
It was not that it's a historical novel (set in London 1794), because generally historical fiction doesn't work very well for me. There are of course a long list of exceptions to that statement, but I'm not going to follow that path tonight. It definitely wasn't the promise of transgressive sex, which I can only assume I missed when I first picked it up, because almost without exception (I can't think of an exception, but there probably is one) that's not something I'm interested in reading about. The problem being so often, and here, that I was left with the impression of abuse by numbers, and I don't find that entertaining, or thought provoking.
Plot wise 4 wealthy merchants decide they will buy a piano and have their 5 daughters taught to play with the object of giving a concert to attract potential husbands. They want to buy titles. Unfortunately the piano maker has an unhealthy love for his instruments, he doesn't want to sell, and when his disfigured daughter forces him to part with his best piano in revenge for an insult, he persuades the music master the merchants hire to seduce their daughters. Which he does, even though one of them smells like a goat.
Meanwhile one of the girls (not the one who smells of goat) has rather more serious problems than a frisky pianist, and her own plans to subvert the concert. I know I'm being unfair about this book, a lot of my problems with it are subjective, and the next reader will love all the bits I didn't. I lost patience in a splendidly gothic scene where curtains are torn aside only to unleash a hell of spiders and bats in a shadowy ball room being used as a music room. I've been in bat inhabited churches, the smell, and mess, is distinctive - I wasn't feeling it and started to get pedantic, which is never a good sign.
I persevered anyway, and liked the second half of the book more, where I think I began to appreciate what Grant was doing. It didn't help that the musical references were over my head too. It's not a bad book (I might have enjoyed it a lot more if it was), but it wasn't for me. I'm still glad I read it, and I'd definitely have a look at anything else I saw by Grant, because her story telling was compelling enough to get me through a book that I could so easily have abandoned, but in fairness to both of us I'll only read it if it really sounds like something I'll love.