April 5, 2005

No noise nor silence, but one equal music

Book #17
An Equal Music, by Vikram Seth
At first I thought this was pretentious, verbose rubbish, all arty-farty music-loving claptrap of the wrong sort, and very slow to get going. I almost didn’t perservere with it, but then it started to get interesting, and I began to care about the pathetically tragic hero and his two main crises; namely his doomed attempt at reviving an ancient love affair with a hopelessly afflicted musician; and the potential loss of his beloved violin.
If you have a good technical understanding of string quartets, you will be able to appreciate this book much more than I did; I was forced to skim occasional passages where Seth’s first person narrator started to blather on in fragmented sentences about the sound of the larks, blah blah blah.
I expect that proper literary critics will have made use of some sort of orchestral analogy when reviewing this book, with its pianissimo start and its dramatic crescendo. Unfortunately that’s all the music words I can think of, woefully ignorant of Bach and Schubert, and still slightly under the impression that a viola is smaller than a violin, as I am. The proper critics will certainly have used the word beautiful, and in places it is frustratingly so.
There are some particularly pleasant scenes set in Venice, and in these parts it is easier to relate to the passionate writing about music. From Venice onwards, the novel becomes absorbingly gripping, but is never quite sad enough to move me to tears.