Cover image for An equal music
An equal music
Seth, Vikram, 1952-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Broadway Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
380 pages ; 25 cm
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The author of the international bestsellerA Suitable Boyreturns with a passionate and deeply romantic tale of two gifted musicians. When an English quartet, the Maggiore, undertakes a challenging work of Beethoven's, violinist Michael Holme is overwhelmed by memories of mastering the piece as a student in Vienna. That's where he also met Julia McNicholl, a pianist whose beauty was as mesmerizing as her musical genius, and whom Michael loved with an intensity he never found again.  Years later, Michael is living a life devoted to music, until one day he is riding a London bus, and there, on another bus, separated only by glass, sits Julia McNicholl. Though the mutual passion flares anew, the love they shared in their younger days is now complicated by the secrets and silences that have been generated by the passing of years. Unable to resist the power of their shared history, however, Julia agrees to tour Vienna and Venice with Michael and the Maggiore Quartet. Against the magical backdrop of concert halls and canals, Michael and Julia must confront the truth about their love for one another, their love for the music that brought them together, and the true consequences for their tangled hearts. An Equal Musicshows Seth to be at the top of his form: It is a tour de force of poetic, impassioned writing, conjuring brilliantly the worlds of Beethoven and Bach, of Vienna, Venice, and London, of individual heartache and the familial bonds that tie a quartet. Interweaving themes of loss, longing, and the power of music,An Equal Musicis a deeply affecting story about the strands of passion that run through all our lives, masterfully confirming Vikram Seth as one of the world's finest and most daring novelists.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Seth has moved from the symphonic scope of his best-selling A Suitable Boy (1993) to a love story set to chamber music. Michael, Seth's melancholy narrator, is second violinist for a London-based string quartet. He lives alone, conducts a desultory affair with one of his students, and pines for the lost love of his life, Julia, a beautiful pianist. They studied together in Vienna, and their passion for music informed every facet of their love until what was a source of joy became cause for grief. Terribly sensitive and prone to breakdowns, Michael fled after a quarrel with his teacher, leaving Julia bewildered and utterly devastated. Once established in London, he attempts repeatedly to find her, but she seems to have vanished without a trace. Finally, years later, he sees Julia on a bus and learns that she is married and has a son. Determined to express his undiminished love even under these daunting circumstances, Michael is in for yet another shock: his beloved, who is still playing concerts, is deaf. Rarely has the experience of playing music--of dwelling within its shimmering universe, of both hearing and feeling its vibrations--been so penetratingly realized as in this tragic love story. Replete with feverish drama and elegant characters, staccato dialogue, and sweeping emotions, Seth's irresistible novel is destined to please diverse readers as it artfully bridges the divide between popular and literary fiction. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0767902912Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Seth finds his true voice in this lyrical, ravishing tale of star-crossed loversÄan 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 musicÄand spiritÄof 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 affairÄwith 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 emergesÄJulia 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. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Following the widely acclaimed A Suitable Boy (LJ 4/15/93), Seths third novel is a beautifully written piece set around the world of classical music. In this story of one mans life, readers are taken on a passionate journey, as seen through the eyes of violinist Michael Holme. As Michael travels through Europe as a member of a quartet, he reminisces about his lost love, Julia McNicholl, a pianist. The former lovers are reunited, but the depth of their love and trust is put to the test when Michael discovers that not only is Julia married and the mother of a young son but that she is also going deaf. Seths writing is rich with emotion and imagery. His work contains strong characterizations, and his knowledge of and research into the realm of classical music is evident. Readers cannot help being drawn into the story, regardless of their level of familiarity with the world of music. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P. L., Stanton, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1.1 The branches are bare, the sky tonight a milky violet. It is not quiet here, but it is peaceful. The wind ruffles the black water towards me. There is no one about. The birds are still. The traffic slashes through Hyde Park. It comes to my ears as white noise. I test the bench but do not sit down. As yesterday, as the day before, I stand until I have lost my thoughts. I look at the water of the Serpentine. Yesterday as I walked back across the park I paused at a fork in the footpath. I had the sense that someone had paused behind me. I walked on. The sound of footsteps followed along the gravel. They were unhurried; they appeared to keep pace with me. Then they suddenly made up their mind, speeded up, and overtook me. They belonged to a man in a thick black overcoat, quite tall - about my height - a young man from his gait and attitude, though I did not see his face. His sense of hurry was now evident. After a while, unwilling so soon to cross the blinding Bayswater Road, I paused again, this time by the bridle path. Now I heard the faint sound of hooves.  This time, however, they were not embodied. I looked to left, to right. There was nothing. As I approach Archangel Court I am conscious of being watched. I enter the hallway. There are flowers here, a concoction of gerberas and general foliage. A camera surveys the hall. A watched building is a secure building, a secure building a happy one. A few days ago I was told I was happy by the young woman behind the counter at Etienne's. I ordered seven croissants. As she gave me my change she said: "You are a happy man." I stared at her with such incredulity that she looked down. "You're always humming," she said in a much quieter voice, feeling perhaps that she had to explain. "It's my work," I said, ashamed of my bitterness. Another customer entered the shop, and I left. As I put my week's croissants - all except one - in the freezer, I noticed I was humming the same half-tuneless tune of one of Schubert's last songs: I see a man who stares upwards And wrings his hands from the force of his pain. I shudder when I see his face. The moon reveals myself to me. I put the water on for coffee, and look out of the window. From the eighth floor I can see as far as St Paul's, Croydon, Highgate. I can look across the brown-branched park to spires and towers and chimneys beyond. London unsettles me - even from such a height there is no clear countryside to view. But it is not Vienna. It is not Venice. It is not, for that matter, my hometown in the North, in clear reach of the moors. It wasn't my work, though, that made me hum that song. I have not played Schubert for more than a month. My violin misses him more than I do. I tune it, and we enter my soundproof cell. No light, no sound comes in from the world. Electrons along copper, horsehair across acrylic create my impressions of sense. I will play nothing of what we have played in our quartet, nothing that reminds me of my recent music-making with any human being. I will play his songs. The Tononi seems to purr at the suggestion. Something happy, something happy, surely: In a clear brook With joyful haste The whimsical trout Shot past me like an arrow. I play the line of the song, I play the leaps and plunges of the right hand of the piano, I am the trout, the angler, the brook, the observer. I sing the words, bobbing my constricted chin. The Tononi does not object; it resounds. I play it in B, in A, in E flat. Schubert does not object. I am not transposing his string quartets. Where a piano note is too low for the violin, it leaps into a higher octave. As it is, it is playing the songline an octave above its script. Now, if it were a viola . . . but it has been years since I played the viola. The last time was when I was a student in Vienna ten years ago. I return there again and again and think: was I in error? Was I unseeing? Where was the balance of pain between the two of us? What I lost there I have never come near to retrieving. What happened to me so many years ago? Love or no love, I could not continue in that city. I stumbled, my mind jammed, I felt the pressure of every breath. I told her I was going, and went. For two months I could do nothing, not even write to her. I came to London. The smog dispersed but too late. Where are you now, Julia, and am I not forgiven? Excerpted from An Equal Music by Vikram Seth All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.