Review of 'An Equal Music'

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth

an_equal_music.jpg Vikram Seth has a very poetic way of writing (perhaps literally the case in works such as The Golden Gate) with “An Equal Music” no exception. I sort of find him an easier-to-read version of Salmon Rushdie – Don't get me wrong, both are absolutely amazing writers but Seth I find a lot easier to take. Reading a Rushdie I will average perhaps about 10-12 pages a day but with Seth I can easily do 50-60 pages in the same amount of time.

“An Equal Music” tells of the story of Michael, a violinist living in London working as a music tutor and in a string quartet. When he spots Julia a bus his life is turned upside down. Julia was the love of his life he had met while studying in Vienna though ended after he broke down in a disastrous public performance. He becomes obsessed with finding Julie and when he eventually does he is shattered to learn that she is already married and has a child. Even so, their forgotten love is impossible to shove aside as they fall quickly into an affair. While his personal life is turned upside down things with his quartet are also coming to a head with a tour planned for Vienna and Venice along with Michael's passion for a little known quintet variation of Bach's “Art of Fugue” which leads to a recording contract for the group. Michael quickly discovers a devastating truth that has caused Julia to largely retreat from music and playing with others…

A great novel from a master of the craft who demonstrates and amazing understanding of not only music but the frailties of a heart in love and the blindness it often causes. This is a study in tragedy as Michael attempts to restart a relationship long ago abandoned and while Julia has gone on, he is still very much trapped in the past but determined to maintain the delusion of something that can no now longer ever be. I have to say at many points I was exasperated at Michael's naivety and obsessive personality even in the harsh light of reality where these things can never happen. This is not to say it is all doom and gloom – There is a great deal of happiness here not only in relationships but also in the sheer joy of the music which permeates the book.

Seth has put an impressive amount of knowledge of classical music into “An Equal Music.” Not only is it a deep understanding of the music itself but it is also the incredibly believable understanding of how musicians, the music industry and quartets operate on a personal and professional basis. All of this adds a degree of reality that truly grounds the entire book. His understanding too of London (where I live) also really helps in this giving a veracity to the book that other authors often miss.

The book does tend to drag a bit in the middle and the ending seems to come all to quick with a not-entirely satisfactory (though perhaps apt) conclusion. The characters are utterly believable as is the musical world they inhabit. It makes me want to go out and look up some of the pieces discussed to feel the emotions so passionately expressed here…

“An Equal Music” is a bittersweet story of music, lost love and a life not yet lived. Where one's literal and spiritual experience of music is truly different that any other's and indeed, both perceptions are equal.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2019-10-06

Genre: General Fiction

Publisher: Phoenix

Publication Date: 1999

ISBN: 0753807734

Other reviewed books by Vikram Seth: