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The Ensemble

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  8,672 ratings  ·  1,074 reviews
The addictive debut novel about four young friends navigating the cutthroat world of music and their complex relationships with each other, as ambition, passion, and love intertwine over the course of their lives.

Brit is the second violinist, a beautiful and quiet orphan; the viola is Henry, a prodigy who’s always had it easy; the cellist is Daniel, the oldest, the angry s
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published May 15th 2018 by Riverhead
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Average rating 3.49  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,672 ratings  ·  1,074 reviews

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Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: insomniacs
My 1.5 star rating only indicates how I felt about the book. It’s not a judgment on the author’s talent or the worthiness of the story. It simply was not for me.

The cover is gorgeous, I’ve seen stellar reviews from trusted sources, and I love a character-driven novel. This looked promising.

But, for me, the entire book was S-L-O-W with a lot of telling and very little showing. We are told in minute detail every thought they ever have. There’s lots of naval-gazing. Pages and pages of musings. Lots
Diane S ☔
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A while back I decided to quit reading most of the summarys posted for books. The reason I stopped doing this is that I felt too much of the book was being given away. I do, however, read the first paragraph of these summarys, just to get a general idea of the book. I was drawn to this one because it stated it was an addictive read, plus it was about music, and seemed a little different from that which I usually read. Surprisingly enough I did find this addictive.

The lives of four member of a mu
Elyse  Walters
Audiobook...narrated by the wonderful
*Rebecca Lowman*.

Author Aja Gabel completely won me over...
...A pitch-perfect debut.
It’s filled with sharp observations about the choices one makes between love, work, and friendships.
The interrelationships between Brit, Daniel, Jana, & Henry...members of the string quartet...and their outside relationships were complicated- yet that’s what made the book interesting.
“The Ensemble” reminds me a little of the television series “Mozart in the Jungle”....a sho
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a remarkable debut as much for its portrayal of ambitious musicians in the world of classical music, as it is for its depiction of growing into adulthood within that rarified world. I was surprised at how addicting I found the stories of these four friends and how captivated I became with the music they were creating. With no musical inclination whatsoever--unless you count baton twirling with the marching band--I was immersed in every note and I found so much of it deeply absorbing.

Celeste Ng
In the tradition of THE INTERESTINGS and THE SECRET HISTORY, THE ENSEMBLE teases apart the strands of an intense and long-lasting group friendship that both bolsters and binds its members. Aja Gabel's powerful debut offers a sensitive portrait of four young musicians forging their paths through life: sometimes at odds with each other, sometimes in harmony, but always inextricably linked by their shared pasts. ...more
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
1.5 stilted mundane stars

For me this book was like taking a ride on the NY subway system. There were moments of light but most of it was traveling in the dark. Following four people, members of a string quartet, one of whom was gifted and the rest very talented was a dull experience. To me, it lacked life, it lacked vibrancy, the exhilaration one feels when you have found your place in the arts.

I do have a music background and I do have some experience with working with gifted and talented peop
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
A mix of my favorite book, Rules of Civility and another one of my favorites, The Interestings, but starring the members of a string quartet. LOVED it! ...more
May 23, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

I liked this debut novel about four young musicians who come together to form the Van Ness Quartet. The group includes first violin Jana, their resilient and headstrong leader, second violin Brit, the consistent and sweet orphan, Henry on the viola, the prodigy who has gotten everything he wants in life, and Daniel playing cello, the oldest and angriest of the group. The Ensemble follows this chamber group's rocky start to its glorious heights. Amidst their music comes drama in their in
Jennifer Blankfein
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Ensemble is a great summer read – a wonderful debut about four quartet musicians and their lives together from right out of school to adulthood – what they gave up and what they earned, the love they developed and the family they created. The Van Ness Quartet consists of Jana, first violinist and leader, Brit, the quiet, second violinist, Daniel the older cellist and playboy, and Henry the violist prodigy. Author Aja Gabel skillfully links them together by their shared musical experiences, e ...more
Katie Avagliano
May 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Okay. Okay. I was looking forward to reading this for months because I thought it would be like “The Interestings.” It’s not. I was about twenty pages in before I flipped to the author bio to see if Gabel had graduated from a writing program. She had. It’s a book that reminds me of everything I don’t like about literary fiction, MFA program fiction - you can’t even get into the story, loose as it is, without getting mired in backstory and interiority. It’s a book that’s supposedly about an ensem ...more
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you grew up playing a string instrument, The Ensemble will bring that dusty rosin smell right back to you. You probably knew people like Brit, Henry, Daniel, and Jana, the four characters who make up the titular string quartet--I know I did. Even if you’ve never spent any time with a bow in your hand, though, I predict you’ll get sucked into the cutthroat yet pristinely classy world of elite musicians. This is the kind of book where the shifting dynamics between the characters are the real at ...more
Sep 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars

I somehow found myself wavering between completely loving this book and being utterly bored by this book throughout my experience of reading it, which is quite the accomplishment in and of itself.
Jun 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Nicely done debut novel about a classical string quartet that spans the sixteen years following their graduate school recital to their last concert together. It's a coming of age story, with a musical twist.

The chapters alternate between each musician - Jana (first violin), Britt (second violin), Henry (viola) and Daniel (cello) - and one spouse, Kimiko. Each of the characters have their own backstories, flaws, foibles and differing levels of talent. It's interesting to see them through each oth
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
[3.5] I enjoyed this character driven novel about the changing dynamics and friendships of four members of a quartet over a couple decades. Although I did not feel affinity with Brit, Jana, Henry and Daniel - I was fascinated with their individual and collective lives - as well as a view into the world of professional classical musicians.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Apr 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read2021, music
One of my reading goals this year is to get through more of the books on my shelves with music as a theme. When I realized I had yet to do that and it's the 4th month of the year, I decided to start with the cheeriest cover.

Along the lines of An Equal Music or even Daisy Jones & The Six, The Ensemble is a very readable story of a string quartet that got together during graduate pursuit of music and how their relationships change over the years while still in the quartet. I loved that the author
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Ensemble is a gorgeously written contemporary about four very different people brought together by the common dream of being recognized in the field of classical music.

With excellent character development and an insightful portrayal of the intricate relationship shared by quartet musicians, Aja Gabel has woven a beautiful story about what it is like to be a professional classical music player and part of a quartet for almost two decades.

Although, a lot of musical reference throughout the b
Paul Secor
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
I had hopes when I began reading this novel - a telling of the lives of the members of a classical music string quartet. Those hopes faded quickly when I found myself reading something that was a step above a soap opera or chick lit - at times perhaps only half a step above those genres.
To make matters worse, Ms. Gabel is an explainer. She repeatedly tells the reader the thoughts and feelings of the four musicians. More showing and less telling, please.
So I'm still looking for fictional works t
In May 1994, the members of the Van Ness String Quartet are completing their final graduate recital at a San Francisco conservatory and preparing for the Esterhazy quartet competition in the Canadian Rockies. These four talented musicians – Jana, first violin; Brit, second violin; Henry, viola; and Daniel, cello – have no idea what the next 15 years will hold for them: a cross-country move, romances begun and lost, and career successes and failures. Drawing on her own history as a violinist and ...more
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved this. I loved it I loved it. Never have I read such glorious writing about music and about musicians. I want to say something poetic about how the author builds the four characters into a harmony even when they're pushing against one another in dissonance, and how it's about a quartet but it reads like a symphony but I'll just say that I loved it and leave it there. ...more
Read By RodKelly
Jul 09, 2018 rated it liked it
2.5 Stars...

The Ensemble's premise is interesting enough: a story about the inner lives of the members of the Van Ness String Quartet from 1994-2009.

However, this novel suffered from a great deal of technical weakness. There's a certain lack of rhythm that makes for pretty slow reading for a novel with only 330 pages. (I've been noticing this lack of rhythm in a lot of debut novels lately!) I felt so distanced from the main characters, and ironically, it was because of the long digressions into
Jul 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
everyone kisses everyone but no one cares
Jun 12, 2018 added it
Shelves: forsaken
It pains me to say this, because I SHOULD have loved this book. I play the violin. I loved playing chamber music in string quartets. This book is on most summer reading lists for 2018. But I quit it on page 150. The main characters are selfish and neurotic and cynical; they didn't even exhibit real friendship (in the pages I read). Even the descriptions of the music, instruments and performances fell flat for me. I have learned my lesson after The Nest; any book in which the characters exhibit z ...more
Lauren Fanella
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5⭐️ Stellar writing with such complex and rich characters and relationships. Blown away that this is a debut novel. Loved being immersed in this world of classical music.
May 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc, read-in-2018
I enjoyed this book and the story of four musicians. It is one of those books in which not much really happens but it spans many years and is a great character study. It was beautifully written. But I felt there were just parts my eyes would just skip over and that there was a lot of filler that got tedious.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
Traci Thomas
Nov 09, 2018 rated it liked it
This is totally not my kind of book but I actually enjoyed it. It is Sorkin like in the characters ability to articulate extreme self awareness. It is also greys anatomy like in the intense interpersonal relationships. So parr’s were way too slow for me, but I am over all pleasantly surprised with this book.
Mollie Reads
Sep 04, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was overhyped for me, but I was impressed by the beautiful prose. While there was certainly a lot of emotion and complex relationships to tap into, I didn't always connect with that emotion, and I didn't really care about the characters. There were a few passages/quotes I loved, and I can appreciate the musical details, which were lovely. But it did lag for me at times. I haven't been this conflicted about my feelings for a book since The Nest. ...more
Janelle Janson
Thank you so much Riverhead Books for my free copy of THE ENSEMBLE by Aja Gabel - all opinions are my own.

This lovely debut novel follows four musicians from graduate school through to their life in the Van Ness String Quartet. The narrative is the quartet’s story as a whole, but also each individual story of Jana, Henry, Daniel, and Brit. The book is divided into four sections and each section is headed with three famous works of classical music for strings. I thought that was a really nice tou
Deborah Stevens
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed entering the unknown-to-me world of high level classical musicians. The author did a great job of both world building and character development. Beautiful descriptive writing.
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing

4.5 stars

I loved this a whole lot, which is great, because I wasn't entirely sure what I was getting into when I checked this out of the library based ENTIRELY on cover...

I'm not a musician at all, but there was something so immersive about how Gabel wrote those bits as if all her audience would understand. I loved the four main characters, for as flawed as they were. This is an introspective, plot-light novel. It's heavy on feelings and the relationship between the four main characters. Even s
Oh, I really want to like this. The cover has been calling to me ever since it was published. I love the idea of exploring the dynamic of a string quartet.

Alas, this just didn't work. I felt like it was the beginning of a Rugrats episode, where they would zoom in on an everyday object like a carton of eggs or something, and you would be staring for about 10 seconds trying to figure out what it was before they zoomed back out. We were just way too zoomed in on the characters' interior lives but
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The Ensemble is a novel about a professional string quartet, the musical career they create, and the relationships in art they forge with one...
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“Love is inexact, Henry said. It is not a science. It is barely a noun. It means one thing to one person, and one thing to another. It means one thing to one person at one point and then something else at another point. It doesn’t make sense. We are gathered here today to not make sense. We are gathered here today to listen to the ineffable. I’m supposed to be explaining it, but I can’t explain it. I love you, it’s a mystery. Because it’s a mystery, we have to take care of it. Feed it. It can go missing, but we can’t tie it up. We can only tie it to someone else. Other people. Then the world is like this: full of the geometry of my rope tied to you, and to you, and yours tied to him, and to her, and hers to someone else. I love you, it’s a mystery. A moment of silence.” 8 likes
“I think that's what happens when you love people more, or more people. In here gets bigger.' Daniel tapped his hand on his own bullish chest. 'But out there has to get a little smaller,' he said, sweeping his hand around the room.” 4 likes
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