AN EQUAL MUSIC by Vikram Seth


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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 4th, 1999
ISBN: 0-7679-0291-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Broadway
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1999


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FictionA SUITABLE BOY by Vikram Seth
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