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An Equal Music: A Novel Paperback – May 2, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; English Language edition (May 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037570924X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375709241
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (201 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

Whatever be it, it's an equal music.
SUBIR GHOSH
There wasn't a single major sympathetic character in the entire book.
Amazon Customer
What a wonderful story, so well written and captivating.
binnsie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By GadgetChick on February 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
An Equal Music is one of my favorite novels. It's a love story, but it's not just about romantic love - it's about the love of a parent for a child, love for a beautiful object that can't love you back, love for the timeless work of brilliant artists, and most of all, the love you have for someone who doesn't really exist anymore, either because they have died or because they've changed. The romantic relationship in the book is intricately woven with the other details of the protagonist's life in such a way that it's not just his relationship with the fellow musician that is a romance, but his relationship with the world and with his art as well. As a whole the novel is both incredibly uplifting and heartbreakingly sad. This book is not a 'fun read,' a fast book or a romance in any conventional sense, but will stay with you long after you've put it back on the shelf. Seth is truly a masterful writer and the way he crafts this story is incredibly intelligent and inspiring.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By John A Sollami on January 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Unlike most of the other reviewers of this book, I love Bach, Haydn, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, etc., and have loved them for many years. So I have no patience with those who talk about the main character, Michael Holmes, as a whiner or as immature. Of course he is these things. So what? The fact is, Vikram Seth has given us very plausible characters who act with passion, who are driven by the need to find the exquisite, and who are changed forever by their encounters with this passion. And who among us haven't acted dumbly when we think we are in love and that love goes bad and our lives go bad with it? I know I have. I know I've been selfish, dumb, self-pitying. But these days it's a sin to give in to emotions. One must behave like a "healthy" person, move on, take Prozac, and just get over it. I wonder if all artists, musicians, and novelists were always "rational" and just "got over" things, would great and meaningful art ever be able to be created through such a "rational" mind? In any case, this novel is a great entertainment, beautifully composed and easy to read. I think its ending is just fine. I admit there were parts that could have been better edited, redundancies that made me impatient with Michael and Julia, but these were minor flaws in a fine novel that accomplishes a whole lot. I was very happy to meet all its characters and live among them for a while. I even went off to my local music store and got the Haydn string quartet that Michael loved so much. I highly recommend this novel to anyone, but especially to those who love Bach and chamber music.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Bharati Mitra on December 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I must admit, I've never been an ardent fan of classical music and never learned to play an instrument. As I read the book, however, for the first time in my life, I wished I had. Seth's descriptive, highly sensitive, almost poetic writing allows readers like myself to catch a glimpse of the world of classical instrumental music, from the inside. One's heart goes out to Julia for her loss, and also for the fact that she still loved Michael and allowed him to take advantage of that fact. I do not agree with reader Graciella Lopez' review of this book. Seth does not expect the readers to love or admire the character of Michael Holme, but to understand and may be even pity him a bit. Though a good musician, Michael's a selfish loner and rather a loser; there are many men like that out there! The major characters in a good book do not have to be perfect or even lovable. As long as they are recognizable as real, and are capable of drawing some sort of emotion from the reader, they make the book interesting. I strongly recommend this book to all readers, classical music lovers or otherwise, for Seth's writing is superb. This is the perfect book to curl up with on a cold night in front of a crackling fireplace, with Beethoven, Bach or Schubert on the stereo system if possible!
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By lalitdar@hotmail.com on August 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I don't know much about western classical music- but it was no drawback. This book gives tremendous insight into the minds and inter-relationships of the quartet of musicians (and more). As a love story it is very satisfying- especially the end- which is extremely graceful and peaceful. The single shock device in the narrative seems contrived for a while, but is then explored adequately. The other characters are wonderfully realised- Michael's father, Mrs.Formby, the violin maker etc. The obsession for music is there in all its passion, glory and frustration- and if you have any obsession in your life (not just music) you will understand it and sympathise and identify with the main character. As with Nick Hornby's soccer (Fever Pitch) and music (High Fidelity). The last time I felt so much at peace during and after reading a book was when I read Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro- Japanese writer with British characters- another similarity)- and after seeing a film, it was with Babette's Feast- can't explain this! Vikram Seth need not worry about the Booker prize- with his versatility, sensitivity and understanding of human behaviour, he has Nobel prize potential, in the long run and at this rate. Strongly recommended.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John Sollami on November 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
Unlike most of the other reviewers of this book, I love Bach, Haydn, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, etc., and have loved them for many years. So I have no patience with those who talk about the main character, Michael Holmes, as a whiner or as immature. Of course he is these things. So what? The fact is, Vikram Seth has given us very plausible characters who act with passion, who are driven by the need to find the exquisite, and who are changed forever by their encounters with this passion. And who among us haven't acted dumbly when we think we are in love and that love goes bad and our lives go bad with it? I know I have. I know I've been selfish, dumb, self-pitying. But these days it's a sin to give in to emotions. One must behave like a "healthy" person, move on, take Prozac, and just get over it. I wonder if all artists, musicians, and novelists were always "rational" and just "got over" things, would great and meaningful art ever be able to be created through such a "rational" mind? In any case, this novel is a great entertainment, beautifully composed and easy to read. I think its ending is just fine. I admit there were parts that could have been better edited, redundancies that made me impatient with Michael and Julia, but these were minor flaws in a fine novel that accomplishes a whole lot. I was very happy to meet all its characters and live among them for a while. I even went off to my local music store and got the Haydn string quartet that Michael loved so much. I highly recommend this novel to anyone, but especially to those who love Bach and chamber music.
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