Same old song and dance

Tracy Nyhan struggles to play on the broken strings of a love story as she reviews An Equal Music by Vikram Seth.

I bought An Equal Music, by Vikram Seth after the word “music” in the title enticed me to do so. Upon reading it however, I soon found out that it’s not just about music at all, rather it deals with the impact of relationships and loneliness on the life of an average middle-aged man, who happens to be a violinist in the Maggiore Quartet.

Technically, it’s a love story; but it’s not your average love story. It’s more of a story about obsessing over someone but it’s just about bearable to read. It’s a story of how music acts as fate and frequently pulls two people together, against all odds.

Michael and Julia first meet each other studying music in Vienna and eventually, through music, they fall in love. But like every love story, there are complications and they are forced apart. That is, until Julia turns up again, ten years later, at one of Michael’s concerts. As expected, their love is rekindled but their road to happiness is far more, shall we say, potholed than those in classic love stories.

As a book told in the first person narrative, the reader is granted the opportunity to analyze and empathize with the protagonist, Michael. I thought it was a nice change to read a complicated love story told from the perspective of a man, instead of the usual hormone-ridden, possibly menopausal, over-sensitive female. Another advantage to the male perspective is that you save a lot of emotional stress (and tissues).

Although in parts, the pages are filled with melodramatic statements which influence you to question whether it is actually being told by a male narrator or by the type of female narrator I mentioned above. Thankfully though, they aren’t plentiful enough to make you throw down the book with boredom.

One of my favourite aspects of the book is the way in which it fuses music with the lives of ordinary people. During the text there are many examples where circumstances in Michael’s life are compared to musical compositions. I felt incredibly cultured reading this novel, which has pages upon pages of information about the works of Schumann, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven, to mention a few, as well as painterly descriptions of Vienna, Paris, Venice and London.

I found this book useful for filling my brain with random facts about music which will no doubt be irrelevant to everything I do in future but might be a good way to impress my friends with my vast knowledge about the quality of a Tononi or the technicalities involved in playing the “Art of Fugue”.

No two people read the same novel: everyone interprets it differently, but this is a novel that everyone can relate to. If you’re someone who’s happily in love, it will show you how fortunate you are, although it could lead to the other extreme and make you realise that you’re not happy in your relationship and you are, in fact, still in love with somebody else. Oops. Perhaps you’re the person who’s still hung up on someone after weeks/months of breaking up?

This book will show you that you’re not as badly off as you may think and maybe prepare the foundations of getting your life back on track. Nah, only messing! This book won’t give you any answers but it makes for a light read to keep you entertained when you’ve nothing else to do. If you’ve no interest in love, this book is good for those who want to increase their interest in and general knowledge of real music.

It is beautifully written, although at times the poetic language seems too forced and inappropriately placed to be credible. I’d recommend it as a divertissement, for those like me, who sometimes have nothing else they want to do other than read a light book. Otherwise, spend your time reading a love story which doesn’t fail so miserably.

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