Maestro First published in 1999, Maestro sold its 200,000th copy in Australia in 2008, and was published to great acclaim in Germany and Austria. Voted by members of the Australian Society of Authors as one of the Top 40 Australian Books of All Time, it was reissued in 2001 as part of the Angus&Robertson Classic series.
Against the backdrop of Darwin - that small, tropical hothouse of a port, half outback, half oriental, lying at the tip of northern Australia - a young and newly arrived southerner, Paul Crabbe, encounters the 'maestro', a Viennese refugee with a shadowy past. The occasion is a piano lesson, the first of many.
Over the next two years, Paul learns more than he wishes to know about his teacher, and more than he wishes to know about himself.
Misleading, of course. As always. But unforgettable; the red glow of his face - a boozer's incandescent glow. The pitted, sun-coarsened skin - a cheap, ruined leather. And the eyes: an old man's moist, wobbling jellies.
But then the suit: white linen, freshly pressed. And - absurdly in that climate - the stiff collar and tie.
I stood behind my mother outside his room at the Swan, perched on a wooden balcony overlooking the beer-garden. The hotel - a warren of crumbling weatherboard, overgrown with bougainvillea - was packed, the drinkers and their noise spilling out of the front bar into the garden. Up the stairs, second on the right, a barman had shouted - and every face in the bar had turned and followed us up. One or two drunken wolf whistles had also followed us up; whistles living far beyond their sexual means, my mother later reported to my father, contemptuously.
'This is Paul,' she said, pushing me forward, ignoring the noise below.
The figure in the white suit stood aside from his doorway, and motioned us inside.
'Of course. Your father has told.'
The accent was thick. Continental, my father had described it vaguely. A voice that reminded him of grilling sausages; a faint, constant spitting of sibilants in the background.
'Sit down,' that voice hissed. 'We will talk.'
A problem: how to capture that accent here? Ve Vill talk? It's tempting - too tempting - to slip into comic-book parody. Ve haf vays of makinkï¿½
If I were less the musician and more the dramatist perhaps I could capture it. No: if I were more the musician, if I had a better ear, I could surely capture it - invent some new notation to better pin those strange melodies to the page. But that looks too much like hard work. And might prove too distracting. What matters is content - what he said, not how.
So, a declaration: from this point in my memoir Keller - Herr Eduard Keller, the maestro - will speak English as well, or as badly, as me.
'A profound exploration of European exile and Australian adolescence ... beautifully constructed, elegantly performed, deeply moving'
'I enjoyed Maestro enormously. Besides its thoughtfulness and bright sensuality, it has a playful quality, a love of jest, which appealed to me very much.'
Helen Garner, Sydney Review
'A beautifully crafted novel dealing with the tragic guld between talent and genius; between the real and the spurious.'
'The necessary elusiveness of perfection, the unplumbed ocean beneath articulateness, the ambivalence of beauty - these are the revolving concerns of Peter Goldsworthy, and handled not just with irony, but with an effervescent, compassionate wit. He can't help being funny, but he's wise too.'
Gerard Windsor, Australian Book Review