Walker Books, Australia, 2022
Text and illustrations by Caroline Magerl
I cannot for a moment pretend to be dispassionate about this book. I am utterly enchanted by it. And ‘enchanted’ is perhaps, an apt word for a book so very much in the realm of magical realism.
Caroline Magerl’s Piano Fingers begins with the pictures, works that for me recall the floating figures of Marc Chagall and David Boyd, but are not the least derivative. The artist draws us into the magical world of little Bea, her sister Isla and their ‘big musical family’ with her dream-like paintings. The world is seen from the point of view of a small child – a world in which everything and everyone seem bigger than they really are.
Bea longs for recognition and to find her own music. The discovery of a piano waiting in an upstairs room finally takes her there. She is helped along the way by the cat conductor Maestro Gus, who tells her she has symphonies up her sleeve and merely needs to start. From plinky plonky beginnings, music blooms, the sounds evoking glorious nature, textures and tastes, and with them Bea’s sense that she is briefly spectacular.
The real joy arrives when Isla with her violin (the honey fog machine) joins her, at last truly seeing her little sister and her piano fingers.
We can read all of this from Caroline’s pictures but we do also luxuriate in her luscious words, her graphic metaphorical turns of phrase: ‘The sound of an icy tear falling from a star, The piano began to huff and hum from its great belly of strings…And then, music bloomed.
A song of winter trees spinning barley sugar clouds for springtime. Listen! A sound more delicious than mulberries between your toes.’ Ach, it’s elegant, sensuous writing and I love it.
This is a book to be enjoyed with all your senses, a work of art in both picture and text, a beautiful object awash with ideas and intuition, enticing beauty and intense emotions. There’s magic in these pages; it’s an irresistible invitation into the metaphysical. I hope Caroline is at work on more of these.
Living Arts Canberra purchased their own copy of Piano Fingers. Thank you to Caroline for chatting with me about this work, which I found to be ‘more delicious than mulberries between your toes.’