Monday, April 13, 2009

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth

I have had An Equal Music on my reading list for donkey's and I finally got around to reading it recently as the subject matter - music - is rather pertinent to me right now. I've recently started my new job and my first three clients all inhabit the world of classical music; a world I have had almost no contact with throughout my adult life.

Oh my God, what a book. I absolutely adored this novel and cannot gush enough about it's near perfection enough. The list of books that have made me weep is not long, but An Equal Music made me blubber, so involved did I get with the two central characters Michael and Julia. I don't want to give too much of the plot away, suffice to say that Michael is a professional violinist, a part of a moderately successful quartet based in London, and Julia is his former girlfriend and a professional pianist who after a decade of no contact suddenly reappears in Michael's life. This reunion coincides with major changes in the musical lives of both of these characters who are drawn to one another, not purely out of physical love, but also a deep and shared passion for music.

I haven't read many novels about musicians - novels about painters seem far more common - but Seth has created a truly moving portrait of the committed and creative musician. The book is filled with musical language and history that would go over the heads of many readers (including myself) but none of the descriptions of instruments, pieces etc are ever boring. This, along with the empathy Seth imbues his characters with, is the mark of a brilliant novelist.

This book has blown me away like no other has since I read Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth last year.

I haven't read Seth's A Suitable Boy yet, so I might try and tackle that tome next time I have a few days off work.

Just before I read An Equal Music I read The Reader. I quite enjoyed the movie and it piqued my interest in the book; I know it has been a bestseller for quite some time.

I found The Reader to be a very odd book. The prose is written in a very unusual style and the novel reads not unlike an essay. The narrator spends an awful lot of time asking himself a million questions and then proceeding to answer them for the reader, rather like an essay. His style would have exasperated my creative writing tutors back at uni and kind of annoyed me too. Even though the events of the book are largely the same as that in the film, somehow all the subtlety was gone. I could see what Schlink was driving at from a mile away - the book is about how subsequent generations of Germans come to terms with the Holocaust and not about the saucy love-affair between a 15-year-old boy an an older woman, that is just a diversion - so there was no aha moment like you often get at the end of a great literary novel. Not the twist per se, just the moment when all the thoughts and feelings the writer has been eliciting in you come together to create a perfect, or imperfect, whole.

I saw the film with three girlfriends and two of the other girls weren't that impressed but while I didn't love it I was certainly moved and impressed with the performances of Kate Winslet and the actor that played the young narrator. I'd say watch the movie on DVD and don't worry about the book. Read An Equal Music instead!

Both books are published by Hachette here in Australia.

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