Sunday, August 28, 2016

A duet of two loves



Vikram Seth's An Equal Music. One of the most satisfying reads in ages. The last page of the book felt like a warm hug. I closed the book, held it to my chest, closed my eyes and smiled.

If you ask me if it had a happy ending, I would counter it with, "what IS a happy ending?"
The life of every individual is sprinkled with unique experiences.  Each person perceives those experiences in a unique way and deals with them in a manner he/she knows the best. This is the quality of humans that I love and enjoy. However similar they might appear, every individual on this earth is as different as the stars in the sky.

It is this uniqueness of human character that is so wonderfully painted in An Equal Music. There are love stories and then, there are, well, love stories. What we have here is just that but dealt in such a beautiful depth that you wonder if some of it could be autobiographical. Perhaps and perhaps not, and therein lies the strength of a writer. To make you wonder how in the wide world does he know all this? How can a person be so perceptive? I think it has got to do more with a very deep level of understanding and intuition than plain research.

The story is all about love and loss...and gain. Michael Holme, a gifted violinist in a quartet is our protagonist. His routine that hangs between clefs, staves and a sheet of recurring painful memory, suddenly gets jammed into a few discordant notes. He hears music in everything - be it the song of a lark, the church bell or the hum of a fridge that emits a note "stuck irksomely somewhere between G and G sharp."

The two loves of his life are off to make a quick exit, threatening to leave him loveless, musicless and maybe lifeless. What does fate offer him finally? The way he embraces his destiny, is the wonderful last note that the author leaves you with. "The rain has washed my earlier tears away." (Part 8)

The novel has a just a few but endearing characters, all of them with a life of their own, with a truth of their own. Michael, he sometimes tires you but hey, he's not a superhero. He's just another man on the street with his fears, doubts and an unstoppable train of thought. Julia Hansen, Michael's past, is fast becoming the most important part of his present. A talented pianist, she is beautiful, affectionate and oh, so real - a woman caught between her heart and her head. She has a certain gift and a challenge that I've never read about anywhere before. I must say, her character 'resonates' with me on more than one level. The way Michael goes so deep into the said challenge is a tad annoying but looking it at from a musician's point of view, it sure is justified.

Then, there are the members of the quartet, each with a charming quirk and a life of their own, again so true to life.

The author's note says "Music to me is dearer than even speech." As for me, I'd never be able to choose between music and the written word, speech ranking a close third.
This book has been personally so enjoyable not just because it is a beautiful romance fiction but it is a duet of two of my own loves. Language and music. And An Equal Music is full of these two things, in equal measure. Though I love Western Classical Music, my knowledge doesn't go beyond a few symphonies and composers. It was a pleasure discovering so much more while reading the book. I found myself googling pieces, names and notes. Reading the book with The Art of Fugue  playing in the background was an experience by itself.

"I put my hand on my shoulder where your head rested. Then I say your name once, twice, a third time, a fourth. Some nights I sleep like that, remembering you; some nights I only sleep as dawn comes in." (Part 7)
I am partly ashamed and partly glad that is my first Vikram Seth novel. His style and use of language...is it prose with generous poetic touches or poetry in the garb of prose? The Golden Gate more openly claims itself to be a novel in verse. But An Equal Music just springs pleasant lyrical surprises. Vis-a-vis a film maker, to think that all a writer has are words to explain the workings of the human mind, a palette of emotions - pain, joy and confusion. And to do all this with clarity and precision is indeed a gift put to a fantastic purpose. No image or camera technique can match the effect of such lines.
"The phone rings maddingly, maddeningly. I let it ring."

Seth also uses wit and humour at every suitable opportunity with a charming deftness. The sweet-silly scene with the critic Nicholas Spare and the punch; the scene in the aircraft about the green and cream sandwiches will take me sometime to forget.

It gladdens the heart that the book is by an author of Indian origin, without any of the mysticism that many writers with an India-background indulge themselves with.

Normally my choice of books depends upon the experience of the last book that I have read. But for now I think I just want to snuggle between some cozy sheets of music.
"Music...is a sufficient gift. Why ask for happiness and hope not to grieve? It is enough, it is to be blessed enough, to live from day to day and to hear such music  - not too much, or the soul could not sustain it - from time to time." (Part 8)
My library copy that I postponed returning as long as I could