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An Equal Music Paperback – Apr 13 2000


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Paperback, Apr 13 2000
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 483 pages
  • Publisher: McArthur & Co (April 13 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1552781461
  • ISBN-13: 978-1552781463
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #464,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

The violinist hero of Vikram Seth's third novel would very much like to be hearing secret harmonies. Instead, living in London 10 years after a key disaster, Michael Holme is easily irritated by his beautiful young (and even French!) girlfriend and by his colleagues in the Maggiore Quartet. In short, he's fed up with playing second fiddle in life and art. Yet a chance encounter with Julia, the pianist he had loved and lost in Vienna, brings Michael sudden bliss. Her situation, however--and the secret that may end her career--threatens to undo the lovers.

An Equal Music is a fraction of the size of Seth's A Suitable Boy, but is still deliciously expansive. In under 400 pages, the author offers up exquisite complexities, personal and lyrical, while deftly fielding any fears that he's composed a Harlequin for highbrows. During one emotional crescendo, Michael tells Julia, "I don't know how I've lived without you all these years," only to realize, "how feeble and trite my words sound to me, as if they have been plucked out of some housewife fantasy." In addition to the pitch of its love story, one of the book's joys lies in Seth's creation of musical extremes. As the Maggiore rehearses, moving from sniping and impatience to perfection, the author expertly notates the joys of collaboration, trust, and creation. "It's the weirdest thing, a quartet," one member remarks. "I don't know what to compare it to. A marriage? a firm? a platoon under fire? a self-regarding, self-destructive priesthood? It has so many different tensions mixed in with its pleasures."

An Equal Music is a novel in which the length of Schubert's Trout Quintet matters deeply, the discovery of a little-known Beethoven opus is a miracle, and each instrument has its own being. Just as Michael can't hope to possess Julia, he cannot even dream of owning his beloved Tononi, the violin he has long had only on loan. And it goes without saying that Vikram Seth knows how to tell a tale, keeping us guessing about everything from what the Quartet's four-minute encore will be to what really occasioned Julia's departure from Michael's life. (Or was it in fact Michael who abandoned Julia?) As this love story ranges from London to Michael's birthplace in the north of England to Vienna to Venice, few readers will remain deaf to its appeals. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Seth finds his true voice in this lyrical, ravishing tale of star-crossed loversAan English violinist and the pianist he desperately pursues. Unlike his previous work, A Suitable Boy (a 1349-page family melodrama set in 1950s India and self-consciously modeled on the social novels of Dickens, Trollope and Eliot), this novel is tightly controlled, original in design, awash in the musicAand spiritAof Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn, Brahms and Bach. Even readers not familiar with specific pieces of Western classical music will be caught up in the contemporary love story, set mainly in London and Vienna with excursions to Venice and northern England. Michael Holme, brooding member of an English string quartet, endlessly adrift a decade after breaking up with pianist Julia McNicholl, suddenly bumps into her again in London. They resume their affairAwith guilty reluctance on her part, as she's married to an American banker and has a son, but with reckless abandon by Michael, who betrays and then ditches his girlfriend, a needy French violin student 15 years his junior. Beyond mere erotic duplicities, a far more tragic obstacle emergesAJulia is rapidly going deaf. Music, her lifeblood, is slipping away from her, a secret she keeps from her fellow musicians until Michael clumsily reveals it. Around this simple plot, Seth weaves an exploration of the creative process as he delves into the quartet members' quirks and neuroses, their romances, states of exaltation, their synchronous vision. All the rehearsals, shoptalk, fiddling and ruminations blunt the impact of Julia's tragedy and the love story's momentum, but Seth's musical, quicksilver prose keeps the narrative aloft. It's a classy novel, told with keen intelligence and sensitivity, embodying a brave attempt to fathom the world of deafness as well as the high-strung milieu of performing artists. $150,000 ad/promo; author tour; simultaneous audio; rights sold in Denmark, France, Germany, India, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the U.K.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Paperback
... explains Vikram Seth in the "Author's note" to this engrossing novel. His intimate connection to music and the process of bringing it to life is palpable throughout the book. The story closely follows the ups and downs in the life of violinist Michael Holme and, to a lesser degree, that of the mysterious pianist Julia McNicholl. What makes the story move far beyond a romantic novel is Seth's ability to convey the deep significance of chamber music by no lesser composers than Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert for his characters' psyche and everyday lives. You don't have to be knowledgeable about the music to feel absorbed by this rich, complex and intimate love story. *)

The story, told through Michael's eyes, is mostly set in north London, where he has found refuge after fleeing Vienna, the town of his professional training. Ten years have passed but his musings keep returning to events in Vienna: self-doubts in his talent as a soloist, amplified by the demands of an exacting, overbearing teacher, had resulted in a complete breakdown. His abrupt departure left Julia, his love, music partner and muse, without a word of explanation or good bye. As he slowly recovered, he tried to reconnect with her, wrote, contacted her father, only to meet a wall of silence. Seth's depiction of Michael's continuing emotional immaturity, his increasing despair at having lost what he now recognizes as his great love reveals the fragility of a character where musical brilliance and human weaknesses are interdependent. His solo career seemingly over, Michael joins the Maggiore Quartet as second violin. While in many ways a close knit group - the "family" gives his life the needed structure and support - it also is the source of inter-personal rivalries.
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Format: Paperback
The most interesting relationship in "An Equal Music" is not Michael and his long-lost love Julia, but Michael and the Maggiore Quartet. Vikram Seth does a fine job capturing the complicated interactions of the quartet's members: the ego clashes, the artistic disagreements, the ability to create transforming music. From the rehearsals to the searches for the perfect instrument, Seth is able to create a compelling picture of the life of these musicians.
Unfortunately, his portrayal of the relationship between Michael and Julia is not nearly so successful. There's certainly no joy in their love. Julia never seems like a real woman, just a sad and beautiful image. It's never clear why Julia, having made a new life after Michael seemed to abandon her, jeopardizes that life to be with him again. As for Michael, he becomes more self-pitying and cruel as the affair progresses. He feels no guilt about the affair but he can't embrace the moment either. Eventually the whole thing just becomes tiresome.
The love affair feels like it was written by rote. Seth is clearly far more interested in the life of the musicians and it shows.
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Vikram Seth has produced another remarkable feat, varying his writing style so dramatically you never think it was the same author who wrote "A Suitable Boy". In this his second major work he considers the life of an English violinist who is a member of a quartet playing chamber music. How Seth can witch from the life of people in India with all of its poverty, joy, humour and life's challenges, to the this altogether different story is completely unfathomable. "A Suitable Boy" always contained a hidden undertone of humour, a sort of subtle wit underlying the story whereas this story is sad, often tragic and sometimes pathetic telling how love is gained and lost, gained and lost again. Suffering of personal magnitude with all of its contradictory thoughts, illusions and fantasies is so well brought out its not hard to get caught in the saga.
The musician has lost his love who he met while studying under a hard taskmaster, his own troubles with his teacher alienate her until he just leaves. Ten years later he meets her again although she is now married, has a child and is progrssively going deaf. He still loves her as does she him, longing and pain of past memories as well as the suffering of not being with the one you love fill this book. They love and meet each other only to have to lie to their friends and husbands. Eventually she can't take the suffering and it comes to a sad end although his own personal journey is not yet complete until he open that door which allows suffering to be felt but not held on to.
In addition to the story itself which is told with real feeling, there is the music which permeates the story almost as much as the love between the two who are both musicians.
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Given that I've read Seth's other novels ("The Golden Gate" and "A Suitable Boy") and was disappointed by both, I wasn't expecting a great deal from "An Equal Music". But it surprised me in that I was taken by the story from the start and I read it very quickly. The only large problems I had with it were where Seth's prose became too self-indulgent, and the times when he lapsed into poetry for no good reason. Yet withal I enjoyed the book.
The story centres on the violinist Michael Holme, a member of the troubled Maggiore Quartet, and his attempts to re-establish his relationship with his old love from student days, Julia. The early part of the novel deals with Michael's re-discovery of Julia (but what is her secret?), with the tensions between the members of the Quartet, and as a sub-plot Michael's detective work to find the recording and score of a "lost" piece by Beethoven. I thought that Seth handled these interconnected stories very well, weaving them together skillfully so that I was turning pages quickly, wanting to know the outcome of those stories.
Given the setting of the novel and the characters Seth depicts, you have to accept that there is inevitably a large element of preciousness and pretension both within the story and the characters. I could see that this will irritate some readers, but what is also there is the vulnerability and frailty of the people, which evokes sympathy.
I thought that the story lost pace in the middle passages, set in Vienna and Venice. Seth tended to overdo the Venetian bits in particular (use of Venice as a backdrop has been done so many times before and so much better - for example in Barry Unsworth's "Stone Virgin" - why couldn't somewhere else have been used?). These parts descend into a sugary style reminiscent of the foul movie "Truly, Madly, Deeply". Yet for all that, Seth did pull the story round in the later parts of the novel.
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