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An Equal Music

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  7,222 Ratings  ·  553 Reviews
The author of the international bestseller A Suitable Boy returns with a powerful and deeply romantic tale of two gifted musicians. Michael Holme is a violinist, a member of the successful Maggiore Quartet. He has long been haunted, though, by memories of the pianist he loved and left ten years earlier, Julia McNicholl. Now Julia, married and the mother of a small child, u ...more
Paperback, 383 pages
Published May 2nd 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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The God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyA Fine Balance by Rohinton MistryThe White Tiger by Aravind AdigaMidnight's Children by Salman RushdieThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Best Indian Books
49th out of 681 books — 2,138 voters
Bel Canto by Ann PatchettAmadeus by Peter ShafferDoctor Faustus by Thomas MannThe Kreutzer Sonata by Leo TolstoyAn Equal Music by Vikram Seth
Classical Music themes in Literature
5th out of 118 books — 80 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Lynne King

It’s the weirdest thing, a quartet. 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.

I was absolutely enthralled with Seth’s two novels “The Golden Gate” and “A Suitable Boy” and so I couldn’t wait to start reading this book. But it turned out to have an odd effect on me as I alternatively loved and hated it. I couldn’t understand this at all. I put the book
Jun 07, 2012 Kailash rated it did not like it
I have never gone as low and as fast in my opinion of a book as with 'An Equal Music'. After the first 25 pages, I felt that I'd stumbled on to something incredible (no doubt helped by the very simple writing, which was a refreshing change from Salman Rushdie's tediousness); but after a 100 pages it became clear that it was incredible, just the wrong type - incredibly bad.

The story is about a violinist who is reunited with his lost love after 10 years. She has re-married and has a child, yet see
Rachel Stern
Jul 08, 2007 Rachel Stern added it
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: justread
I was surprised by how much i loved this book. It's blow off your travelling companions and curl up in your youth hostel until you finish it good. It's finish it and then wish you hadn't so you could read it again for the first time good. The tension in the love story is addictive. But what I loved most was the way Seth writes about music. the way he integrates music into the lives of the characters (all professional musicians) is more than convincing, it's intoxicating.
Apr 18, 2008 Julia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reread, 2008-list
The smell of rosin on a bow, the satisfaction of slow scales played with a partner, the sleepy somnolence of working a piece through in your head just before sleep - I miss these things. I forget them too. Vikram Seth lent them back to me this week.

I’ve read An Equal Music before, quickly. This read, with bed rest time to spin through, I read it page by page, at half tempo. It was delicious. Seth recreates the world of a violinist in a string quartet, bringing in the human element of chamber mu
Oct 03, 2014 Lisa rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I was disappointed in this book. I was looking forward to a novel that had lots of musical detail in it and it definitely succeeded there, and the writing about playing was excellent. But the prose surrounding the main plot of the novel was extremely self-conscious, overwrought and annoying. I didn't find much to like in the main character (beyond his talents as a musician, which came across) and couldn't see any reason for this great love that existed between him and Julia.
Oct 04, 2011 Debbie rated it it was amazing
This book appealed to the writer, the artist, the poet in me.
This book reads like poetry.
Each sentence, phrase, group of words, a symphony, a melodic soliloquy of language speaking fervently and in depth to the heart, mind, body, soul, bone, marrow, blood.
I read, rather sang this book from page to page.
Finding myself enveloped, enraptured within the music of each verse.
Intoxicated, melding myself comfortably between cover and cover.
Eyes closed, mind open.
Entranced, I became one with Micha
Kevin Ansbro
Jun 29, 2016 Kevin Ansbro rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Violinists, music lovers, luvvies who are easily-excited

Seeing this much-lauded novel on one of my bookshelves yesterday reminded me to post a review.

I read this several years ago, when it was being fêted by culturati luvvies the world over.

"A masterpiece ... as clear, lovely and civilised as a Schubert quartet" -Daily Mail

"Seth follows the heart's changes as rigorously as if they were the interweaving lines of a Bach score, and, at its frequent best, his prose, as he intends, is as clear, lovely, inexorable, as a fugue." -Evening Standard

I, on the o
Sarah Milne
Jun 01, 2011 Sarah Milne rated it really liked it
There are things I loved about this book and things I did not love, but the bottom line is that after finishing it I sat for 15 minutes and just pondered it. That's good. I have read a few reviews stating a disdain for the narrator - he's whinny, he's selfish, he's annoying. Yes, those things are true enough. But I like that Seth didn't make a heroic main character. The fact is that a person going through a failed love affair generally tends to be those things. Argue with that all you wish! I fe ...more
This is the story of the Maggiore Quartet composed by Michael, Piers, Helen (brother and sister) and Billy.

However the main plot involves the love story between Michael - a music student in Vienna and Julia McNicol, a pianist.

After a nervous breakdown, Michael unexpectedly leaves Vienna as well as Julia. A few months later, we didn’t manage to contact Julia.

By a faith of destiny, ten years later, Michael saw her in a bus in London, tries to pursuit her but she got lost in the traffic.

While in a
Reindert Van Zwaal
Oct 17, 2016 Reindert Van Zwaal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
There is one thing the book really excels in: describing music.
Musical aspects are really recognizable (if u are a musician) and well worked out.
You can almost feel it flow out of the pages during rehearsals and concerts that take place.

The plot was interesting, although there wasn't much happening in the middle of the book.
Writing is almost poetical in some parts, somehow matching the love and music themes.
Nov 23, 2009 C. rated it it was ok
Recommended to C. by: wom
I read almost half of this book yesterday, and was left somewhat perplexed. There was some nice writing about music, but apart from that - nothing. I mean, there was a plot and characters and so on, but so banal! So mundane! Well, ok, so maybe it wasn't completely banal and mundane - love and so on, of course. Deafness. Children and marriage in the wrong places for our brave protagonist. But it was slightly dramatic in such a conventional way! Why?

A good author should be able to make the slightl
Jul 04, 2013 Page99 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with an ear for music and a heart for romance
Shelves: recommended
The book is about music, love and struggle. It’s not a typically happy book – because it shows you a lot of happiness and then takes it away. I’ve come to believe that it’s a soulful book.

Michael Holmes is a violinist. He plays for the Maggiore Quartet. He’s in love with Julia McNicholl. Julia is a very gifted pianist. Julia and Michael go their separate ways and before they meet again, Julia would have married and have had a child. They meet. Love and music is in the air. And then it isn’t. Not
Aug 26, 2016 James rated it really liked it
This is a beautiful love story and it is a musical tale. The importance of music cannot be emphasized too strongly for, from the title page to the last paragraph music permeates each character. The protagonist, Michael Holme has a spiritual connection with music and with the instrument, a Tononi violin, that he uses to express his music. This goes beyond playing a piece of music, whether Schubert or Bach or Beethoven, and enters his soul and through the prose of Vikram Seth enters the soul of th ...more
Dec 18, 2008 Beth rated it really liked it
Dive into the heart and mind of a obsessive, melancoly, melodramatic violinist who can't let go of the love of his life, a person who he had ditched out on. But seriously, this is a beautifully written book about love and music and loving music. I am not a professional musician, I played piano when I was young, but not that well, and to the reviews I've seen that found classical music oriented parts of the book to difficult or too obscure or too distracting, so as to be suitable only for those w ...more
Oct 05, 2016 Jay rated it it was ok
I even question giving this book as much as 2 stars. This is an adequate but Unimpressive character study about professional musicians and the lives they lead, but is cancerous plagued by a main character so supremely and wholly unlikable that I cannot fathom why Vikram Seth wrote him that way. He doesn't gain anything or change, not really. He is only barely more infantile at the end of the book than at the beginning. The entire main plot of this book is technically serviceable, but serves no r ...more
Mar 14, 2013 Priya rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book promised SO much and delivered so little.

The ending was perfect. It made me gasp and then simultaneously smile and almost sob a little. It was simple, heartrending and beautiful - everything that the rest of the book tried to but couldn't be.

The love story, if it could even be called that, was so shallow. We never really did find out what it was that made Michael fall so deeply in love with Julia, we were never shown how they once were together, what made them "fit" together; we were
Joseph Christoff
Apr 01, 2013 Joseph Christoff rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 09, 2010 Sarah rated it did not like it
I thought the bones of the story were solid, and the images of music provoking. However, all my positive feelings for this book were swallowed up by how much I disliked the character of Michael. He spent the whole book whinging and complaining about how much he missed Julia and wallowing in a pool of self-pity. I found him selfish, arrogant and pathetic, so much so he ruined the book for me. I did not find his pursuit of Julia romantic, but felt for the poor woman and begged Michael to leave her ...more
Raja Ram
Aug 22, 2013 Raja Ram rated it liked it
A love story. A very vivid portrayal of losing the love of your life. Why Michael left Julia in Vienna wasn't really explained to my satisfaction. Not believable considering how much he loved her.

Beautifully written as always but too much detailed reference about the mechanism of constructing music much of which was lost on me. I did appreciate the emotional significance of music on the main characters.

Overall a 3!
Jan 21, 2014 Sallie rated it really liked it
As a chamber music enthusiast, I was thrilled to find a novel that addressed the personality dynamics of a chamber group, specifically a string quartet. I never attend a concert of such a group without wondering what the personal relationships are. Does it travel together? Stay in the same place? Socialize while on a tour? Or do the individual members eschew contact until rehearsal/performance time? Who's jealous; who's the real leader; what kind of resentments are emerging when selections of mu ...more
Sheetal Dash
Dec 13, 2014 Sheetal Dash rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Ayelet Waldman
I reread this for the music for my novel. Far more detailed than I could ever be.
Dec 16, 2015 Susie rated it liked it
When I finished this book, I was surprised to find that I didn't love it. I'm not too sure why this was a surprise. Perhaps because from about a quarter of the way in, I had been hoping for something fantastic, something to match the first quarter.

The writing is lyrical, detailed and occasionally wonderful, though on reflection, all of these things contributed to why it didn't quite work for me. All the detail made it seem contrived. The lyricism was initially beautiful to read - I liked how it
Roger Pettit
Nov 22, 2015 Roger Pettit rated it it was ok
Oh dear! I suspect I am in a minority on this. 'An Equal Music' is yet another novel that seems to have received widespread critical praise (judging by the extracts from professional reviews printed on its inside front pages and back cover) but which left me cold. We are told in those extracts that it's a story that is "a masterpiece"; that it's "a novel that can stand being reread and reread"; and that it's "a novel of wonderful high spirits and vitality". I beg to differ. 'An Equal Music' is a ...more
Mar 19, 2014 Meenakshi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To describe this book in 3 words - stunning, breath-taking and heart breaking!
When I began reading the book, I never even once imagined I would love it so much.I am not particularly fond of romance as a genre; however, this book took me by surprise.Not only is this a story of a man's loss, gain and again loss of love, but it creates a similar graph with music.The writing style left me mesmerised and wanting for more by the end of the book.The story begins 'in medias res', we are slowly introduce
Aban (Aby)
Jul 17, 2012 Aban (Aby) rated it really liked it
This is my second reading of this book and I think I enjoyed it as much as the initial reading. The book revolves around the loves of an English violinist, Michael Holme: his love of music, the string quartet of which he is a member,the old and rare violin on loan to him, and his passion for Julia, a gifted and beautiful pianist whom he'd known when they were studying a decade ago in Vienna. The novel traces Michael's feelings and turmoil, both over Julia and over his music.

The author, Vikram S
Brief Synopsis:

So I'll be writing a very brief synopsis on this one. Very brief. Seeing as there is very little tangible or evident plot to speak of in relation to this book of utter rubbish anyways which lead to me giving up on it. Absolute rubbish...

Anyway, it revolves around a violinist player who is obsessed with his violin and music playing in general, and briefly hints at a previous unresolved romance with a fellow musician which didn't work out for whatever reason. Cue the violins....pun
Graham Crawford
Oct 30, 2013 Graham Crawford rated it really liked it
What an intricate and delicate study of the connections between a group of people! I don't know why I didn't read this years ago! One of the advantages of coming to this book late is that now, via the wonders of the internet, it is easy to track down recordings and scores of all the music mentioned in this book - I was able to listen to all the pieces as I read about them on the page - a truly sublime multi-media experience, though not one for the faint-hearted as I often found myself getting to ...more
Mahendra Palsule
Mar 23, 2012 Mahendra Palsule rated it liked it
Recommended to Mahendra by: Amit
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 06, 2008 Kate rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2007
Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music is moving, rich with lovely language and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

The novel follows a violinist, Michael, who ran away from the love of his life only to regret it ever since. A chance sighting brings him to her and their love and passion comes alive again. I don’t want to say too much because if you haven’t read it, I would urge you to do so. I will say, though, that as a hopeless romantic, I surprised myself that the story that moved my most and that gave me
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Vikram Seth is an Indian poet, novelist, travel writer, librettist, children's writer, biographer and memoirist.

During the course of his doctorate studies at Stanford, he did his field work in China and translated Hindi and Chinese poetry into English. He returned to Delhi via Xinjiang and Tibet which led to a travel narrative From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983) which won
More about Vikram Seth...

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“Is it not love that knows how to make smooth things rough and rough things smooth?” 44 likes
“What is the difference between my life and my love? One gets me low, the other lets me go.” 42 likes
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