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Max Delmarc, a middle-aged, internationally famous pianist, suffers from debilitating stage fright, for which alcohol is the only remedy. He lives a monotonous life, drinking and playing the piano at concerts, until the night when on the way home he is mugged and stabbed. In the course of a brief stay in a hotel that might be a hospital - in which his nurses bear an uncanny resemblance to Dean Martin and Peggy Lee - or might be a purgatory, Max explores the forbidden "rural zone" before being sent to the "urban zone". There are only three basic rules in the urban zone. First, it is forbidden to contact people you knew in life, forbidden to make yourself recognized...The second is that you also have to change your identity...The third rule is that it is forbidden to resume any professional practice related to the one you used to have. Defying the rules, Max engages in a hapless struggle to retrieve pieces of his former life, and although followed by watchers from Purgatory he feels livelier than he did when he was alive. Piano can be read as a metaphor of life and death, heaven, hell. The question is: Which is which?

By : jean Echenoz,

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