This soon-to-be-released novel from independent book publisher Legend Press is set in Eton College, the world's most famous public school, during the height of the Falklands War.
It's 1982 and Kim, a 17-year-old boarder, dreams of following in his father's footsteps and becoming a soldier when he leaves school. But when he meets his new piano teacher, the beautiful India five years his senior, he falls instantly in love.
For the next few months the besotted school boy practises Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier -- India's favourite piece of music -- as if his life depends on it. His efforts pay off and the two embark on an illicit but passionate love affair. But Kim, who describes himself as an "emotional iceberg", becomes riddled with jealousy to the point that the relationship can no longer survive...
Written from Kim's perspective 25 years after the affair ended, The Well-Tempered Clavier is a nostalgic look back at a life-changing love.
Under normal circumstances this relatively straightforward story might be slightly dull, but Coles makes it feel fresh and interesting by setting it in Eton. His descriptions of the school and its old-fashioned ways brings an additional element that adds interest.
There are more than 100 boys, nattering and chattering, a black wave of twitching adolescence. It's Chambers, the only time in the day when you can be guaranteed to find a master -- useful for chits that need signing and work that needs handing in. Inside the School Hall, the scores of gowned Masters -- or beaks -- are small-talking and sipping tea. When they are done, they exit the hall to face the black-and-white sea of schoolboys. The tourists, who roll past in their air-conditioned coaches, watch in amazement.
Given this is a tale about a teenage student being seduced by his teacher, it's a little risque in places. But you have to wade through more than half the book before their relationship is consummated and even then it's written relatively tamely with little resort to crudity.
We were a writhing mass of wet boots, steaming jumpers and slippery coats, her hands all over my back, my chest, curling up round my neck, and, from nowhere, I don't know how, her bra is unclipped and her shirt is open over her taut stomach. I stop kissing her and lift my head back to gaze at the wonder that lies beneath me.
But there is a lot of repetition (how many times does a reader need to be told it is 1982, or that boys at Eton are starved of female attention?) that I found annoying but which could be easily sorted out with a little judicious editing. And as much as I enjoyed this book, racing through it in a matter of days, I found Coles' narrative style slightly grating, as if he was trying too hard to draw out a storyline that didn't warrant it (boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy ruins it).
Despite its lack of emotional depth, The Well-Tempered Clavier is an entertaining read. The ending packs a good punch but the story as a whole won't shatter your world although it will brighten up a rainy day or, as in my case, a long-haul flight.