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AN EQUAL MUSIC

A highly readable if frustratingly uninvolving story of lost love set in the rarefied world of classical music performance, from the Indian-born British poet and author of the verse novel The Golden Gate (1991) and the Tolstoyan A Suitable Boy. (1993). Narrator Michael Holme is a late-30ish violinist living in London, teaching music to such unexceptional students as his pouty mistress Virginie, performing with the (semi-famous) Maggiore string quartet—and indulging bittersweet memories of Julia MacNicoll, the beautiful pianist he had loved, and impulsively abandoned, when they studied music together in Vienna. Seth sketches in pleasing pictures of Michael’s agreeably busy life and generally satisfactory relationships: among them, with the quartet’s other members (all sharply characterized, especially waspish Piers and tenderhearted Billy); with his widowed father, still living in humble Rochdale, where Michael grew up; and with Mrs Formby, Michael’s wealthy mentor-benefactor. Then Julia is glimpsed on a bus, shows up at a Maggiore concert, keeps agreeing to secretly meet Michael though she doesn’t understand why (nor do we)—and, despite her marriage, motherhood, and reluctance to lead “two lives,” they become lovers once again. But while Julia still performs publicly, she’s losing her hearing; her reunion with Michael is an idyll that can’t last, and the story’s downbeat ending looms inevitably. If its principals’ fascination with each other were more distinctive, less moonily generic, this might have been a thoroughly convincing novel, rather than an uneven array of witty observation and keen writing (particularly about music, and the characters’ love of it) unwisely mixed with soporific romance. Brief Encounter set to Beethoven and Schubert. Seth can do better—but don’t be surprised if An Equal Music becomes very, very popular. ($150,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: May 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-7679-0291-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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