Music is the universal language of mankind.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Which is why when it is intertwined with the written word, music helps to express what words alone could not.
Music dripping with the heartache of a rash mistake in love, music bubbling with pure passion and reaching ethereal heights. All this and more defines Vikram Seth’s novel, An Equal Music. It is steeped with Seth’s intense love for music and his love for literature. Both these loves merged splendidly together make this musical novel a beautiful love story of love lost and found and ephemerally cherished.
Though, An Equal Music is a masterful book,the plot is quite conventional. A violinist in his 30s named Michael is part of a string quartet, Maggiore Quartet. He lives in London and one day he accidentally sees Julie, the girl he loved 10 years ago and who he left, back in the days when they were music students in Vienna. This coincidence raises Michael’s hopes for reigniting their love and a string of events-Julie coming to meet Michael after one of his concert performances,she dropping in his apartment, their walks in the park – do just that (much to Michael’s pleasure). However, ten years is too big a gap to fill out by merely walking in the park. There are several changes in their lives that constantly keep altering the love affair they both find themselves in. These anecdotes of love are suffused with fine touches of soft musical notes, fugues and pieces of great musicians like Mozart, Schubert, Bach etc. that define and even take their fragile love forward. Apart from this love story, the plot revolves around the music of Maggiore Quartet – their trials and tribulations as well as the lives and relations of its musicians.
Seth’s poignant writing is bound to take the reader on a lovely musical journey as grand as any classical concert itself. However such brilliant writing cannot hide away the predictability of the story at the start. This can be forgiven because of the utter sensitivity, hope, loss and fragmentation that shines through which is not exactly unique but can hardly be called cliched either.
The plot in general tends to peter out and become too self indulgent. and tends to revolve around Michael alone for a large part of the story. This snatches from the novel the accolade of being completely perfect. Another negative aspect is the overuse of music jargon. Seth definitely has a wholesome knowledge of music but throwing a barrage of musical terms on an ignorant reader (like me) can sometimes take away the pleasure of enjoying the music depicted in words rather than increasing it.
Other than that,the novel is pure magic and a divine concert of love.
Ending on an exalted note that states the importance of letting love go sometimes, An Equal Music does what most love stories fail to do:end on a bittersweet note with Bach’s glorious music lingering on even after the cover is closed. Perhaps this lingering memory can create an awareness of the potential and power of keeping love alive without having to constantly assert it and even create an everlasting love for beautiful classical music.
I’ve learned what ‘classical’ means. It means something that sings and dances through sheer joy of existence.
Perhaps like Holst, one may learn to appreciate its existence too.