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An Equal Music

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  8,904 ratings  ·  704 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 381 pages
Published March 25th 1999 by W&N (first published 1999)
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Average rating 3.78  · 
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 ·  8,904 ratings  ·  704 reviews

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Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘An Equal Music’ is indeed a musical story. The language is immensely beautiful. Throughout the book, one sees how much time human beings spend tuning ‘things’ so that they can live in harmony. In this story, the characters struggle with notes, compositions, and life. Both music and life demand the same things, it is only in certain moments the right notes of joy, bliss, and happiness are struck. The central character in the story, not only in the practice sessions but in real life too, searches ...more
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
Your words have given me life and taken sleep away. The park gates open at first light. Slate-grey and coral, dawn is reflected in the pool. The flowers have been turfed under in the sunken garden. The chack of a squirrel, the splash of a small duck, a blackbird hopping about beneath the thinned-out linden hedge: this is all. I am alone with this troubled joy.

That beautiful, gray day when I found you, Equal Music, a parallel to those drops of hard rain on windowpanes. Go to the used bookstore
Kevin Ansbro
May 22, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 07, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As you take your seat and the room becomes hushed with anticipation your eyes are on the performer. Not any performer but the one in the quartet you came to hear. He plays second violin. Few people like to play second seat. You don’t get do play all those fancy solos. He loves his violin. It’s been with him in a tender devoted relationship longer than most people. His fingers move upon his instrument in fluid motion that holds your attention, hypnotizing you until your eyes meet his. You look ...more
Rachel Stern
Jul 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sarah Milne
Jun 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The bad rating isn't on this book. it just wasn't the book for me.

I don't really understand the characters' choices. Again I'm not satisfied with the ending...

It's amazing how you can ruin your own life and make yourself miserable. Michael's life is the kind of life I'm scared of for myself.
Sep 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 27, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Gorab Jain
Since reading A Suitable Boy a couple of years back, I was highly impressed by the writing style and character sketch of Vikram Seth.
An Equal Music has been on my radar since then. Got a paperback recently, and the beautiful cover added to the charm of diving into this. BR with Smi motivated me further.

What I loved:
1. Chapters are structured exactly like A Suitable Boy. Small chapters with indices like 1.1 to 1.13 etc.
2. Gripping right from the start.
3. Excessive use of musical jargons,
Nov 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Oct 05, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 ...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
Pallavi Kamat
Oct 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So I read this book for the 2nd time and found it to be even more amazing than the 1st time around. It's a story of Michael and his music quartet, and it's a story of Michael and Julia and their love.

If you are a music lover, then this book will be a buffet for you; Seth talks about so much music throughout - there's Bach and Schubert and Beethoven and Mozart and their musical pieces in great detail!

If you aren't a music lover, you can just enjoy Seth's poetic prose and his descriptions of
Julie Christine
It is hard to believe this is the same author of A Suitable Boy! Just as Seth wrapped you up in the world of upper-caste India in the mid 50s, amidst amazing social and political change, now you are led gently into the contemporary classical music scene of London, Vienna, Venice; a love story, a tragedy, a loving tribute to chamber music and insights into the world of performance. THe laughter and lightheartedness in A Suitable Boy are absent here; the characters are treated with almost too much ...more
Reindert Van Zwaal
Jan 30, 2016 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 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 04, 2013 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
Am not equal to dissecting or reviewing An Equal Music.
Suffice to say that it was a wonderful experience, especially to a person who is not passionate about classical music and who doesn't know the ABCD thereof.
Though I couldn't comprehend differences between D minor, F etc... i enjoyed reading about the musical dilemmas.
Loved the interaction between the music fraternity.
The poignant bitter love story was an added bonus.
Mike, Julia, other members of the quarter and the whole premise of this
Aug 09, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Arun Divakar
I would like you to imagine a beautifully carved vessel. By a vessel, I do not mean the seafaring kind but one that can hold something in it. Your vessel is an object of craftsmanship. When you glance at it, you see the evidence of all that is great about hand carved elegance. Walking around the vessel you come across the world's finest carvings built into it. Examples abound ranging from Victorian to Chinese, Indian to Italian. You can't take your eyes off it but still something nags at the ...more
Mar 14, 2013 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
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very different Vikram Seth than I got from the other two of his books I've read. Very pretty and sophisticated. I'm not that musically educated, but I thought I managed well enough. Maybe not though, given that I felt as if there was no resolution or even really a concern for one. It seemed more musically structured than focusing on the idea of a resolution, for good or ill. The various bits progressed and moved, and that was all fine and good, but it felt more concerned with the tone ...more
Mahendra Palsule
Mar 23, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mahendra by: Amit
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book that makes me want to listen to the music mentioned throughout although I don't particularly like quartets and quintets. It gives me a greater understanding of the creative and personal tensions that can arise in musical partnerships and i think the characters in the quartet are well written. I think Seth has written a very credible narrator in the story although a not very likable one and the break of almost 10 years before he sees Julia again by a string of coincidences ...more
Brad Turner
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a love story of sorts depicting a ménage à trois between violinist Michael, pianist and old flame, Julia, and classical music (especially Romantic). There's a bit more to it in characterization and personification, but suffice it to say that music is a demanding and jealous lover.

The story and the prose progress in their own masterful and entrancing way, starting rather simply and generically (as per convention), and gradually spilling forth resplendent and mysterious poetic
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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
“Is it not love that knows how to make smooth things rough and rough things smooth?” 63 likes
“What is the difference between my life and my love? One gets me low, the other lets me go.” 51 likes
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