An Equal Music by Vikram Seth

P1000811A chance sighting on a bus; a letter which should never have been read; a pianist with a secret that touches the heart of her music… An Equal Music is a book about love, about the love of a woman lost and found and lost again; it is a book about music and how the love of music can run like a passionate fugue through a life. It is the story of Michael, of Julia and of the love that binds them.

First published: 1999


Whenever I receive the reading list for my literature courses, I always check my parents’ (ginormous) bookcase before going out to buy (or, more often, order) the books. When I did so in January for my Contemporary Writing course, I found An Equal Music on one of the shelves, although neither of my parents seem to have read it. I immediately started reading it when I found it, but only finished it in March, since all of the other novels for the course had to be read in between. I wished I could have read it in a couple of days, instead of having to leave it for a few weeks while in the middle of the story, but I still thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

An Equal Music is written from the perspective of Michael, who is a violinist living in London and earning his living by playing in a quartet and doing the occasional orchestra work. He studied in Vienna for a while, which is where he met a pianist called Julia, who turned out to be the love of his life, but they lost touch when he moved back to England. He still thinks about her a lot, and then there is that chance encounter on the bus, which more or less sets off the story, which is both wonderful and deeply tragic.

The book is divided into eight parts, which are all again divided into little chapters, usually about two or three pages long. This makes for a very pleasant reading experience and it was quite hard to put down the book. I was pretty annoyed by the fact I couldn’t finish reading before having to read the other books!

One of the most striking aspects of this novel is its description of music. It articulates the musical experience in such a beautiful way, and even though I know absolutely nothing about classical music, I really enjoyed reading about all the different composers, techniques and pieces. I had no clue what, for example, a fugue was (still don’t, actually) but that didn’t bother me at all.

An Equal Music is a whirlwind of emotions and experiences, and I applaud the way Vikram Seth manages to give the written story the feel of a musical piece. It’s amazing, and I definitely recommend reading it, especially to all you classical music lovers out there.

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