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An equal music / Vikram Seth Hardcover – 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: London : Phoenix House; 1st Edition edition (1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767902912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767902915
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 17.1 x 24.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 703 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #71,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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