David Worsley recently asked me if I’d read An Equal Music by Vikram Seth. David had been listening to our string quartet practising before a rehearsal and it reminded him of it. Well, the answer was that yes, I had read it back in 1999 when the novel was first published although I’d forgotten most of the details. Since my conversation with David I have pulled the book off my shelf and reread it.
And what a novel it is: a love story on several levels set against the background of a professional string quartet and the music industry. At the heart of it are two love stories. The narrator is passionately in love with a woman, who for various reasons in unattainable and with the Tononi violin he has on loan. The narrative tension comes from the reader’s being kept waiting for a long time to learn the denouement of either story. In between are terrific accounts of the quartet – sometime augmented to a quintet – playing in beautiful Vienna and Venice as well as London. Seth is also a poet and some of his prose is as lyrical as it needs to be in a novel which features so much music and so many musicians.
When first I read An Equal Music I hadn’t played for years and had never played quartet music at all. This time I responded quite differently. Even with my newfound, very limited experience of playing with three others I found Seth’s account of quartet dynamics fascinating. Nowhere in the blurb or anywhere I can find online does it say that Seth is himself an amateur player but he must be. I find it hard to believe he could have written this novel with such authority without any sort of hands-on music in his life.
It’s a book well worth reading for any musician but especially for string players. My sixteen year old copy is hardback but of course An Equal Music has long since been published in paperback, although not, oddly, in a version for Kindle. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Equal-Music-Vikram-Seth/dp/0753807734/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1437942145&sr=1-1&keywords=an+equal+music Take it on holiday with you, perhaps?
I read it very recently and thought it was excellent; there is also a CD of the music the quartet plays.