Van has finished reading… An Equal Music by Vikram Seth

4 Jul

The Author’s note at the back of my copy of Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music begins with the line, ‘Music to me is dearer even than speech’. I read this after finishing the book and it made me wonder whether Vikram Seth actually talks like this, and that in turn made me wonder about Michael and Julia and Piers and Billy and Helen. Would they talk like this?

Of course it’s a moot point because Vikram Seth chose to write that line. His words, composed to convey his feelings. Yet to me it sounded like an echo. That could so easily have been Michael or Piers. Julia? Maybe (Helen or Billy I think not). What it underlined – and I know it’s a little off-piste for this blog to look at the negative side of things, but indulge me – having read the whole book is that the characters didn’t quite ring true for me. Perhaps it’s that they spent so much time in each other’s company. Perhaps it’s that their life really is so much about music that there’s room for little else. Perhaps it’s that the music they spend so much time with is at least a century removed but in the end they felt to me a little like shades of the same character, and that they’d all be quite at home in a Dickensian parlour.

Where the story really does work for me is in its relationship to music. If you know classical music, and particularly the pieces mentioned in the book then I think you’ll get a great deal more out of it (If you don’t there is apparently a cd available so you can bone up). I’m at that level where I was able to recognise the joke about the string quartet looking like Beethoven’s famous opening to the fifth. I do make a noise with a guitar though, and love listening to music and that’s enough to connect with the quartet and how they feel when they’re playing. Take the music out of the story and the story is strong enough to stand on its own. Take the music aspect and the author attempt to convey something of that mystery that is experiencing listening to, playing, performing music and it’s an admirable attempt to put words in place of notes. In the early pages I had the sense that it might be a kindred read with Bernard MacLaverty’s Grace Notes, though that really is the highest of bars where both writing and writing about music is concerned; the fact that I made that connection is suggestion enough that An Equal Music is readable, understandable and enjoyable.

 

An Equal Music was published by Phoenix in 1999 ISBN:9780753807736

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