A Book A Week Challenge – Week 28

Vikram Seth’s “An Equal Music” starts off with a reference to John Donne’s Sermon XV where he points to a section that describes the walk into the gate of heaven which leads to the house of God –

There shall be no Cloud or Sun, no darkness nor dazzling – but one equal light

No noise nor silence- but one equal music

No fears nor hopes- but one equal possession.

No foes nor friends- but one equal communion

No ends nor beginnings- but one equal eternity.

Even though Vikram Seth doesn’t specifically articulate why he uses the full length of this poem, he uses this as a beautiful foundation to create one simple harmony of love between two musicians.


Book #: 28

Title: An Equal Music” by Vikram Seth

Pages: 484

He is a violinist and she is a pianist – who is now married and has a child. His love stayed with him and every string that his violin strummed reminded of her. “I cannot bear to be in the company of others, but when I am alone, I am sick with memory,” he tells us. The beauty of writing in this book comes from the skill of “articulating” music. Yes, the articulation and not the rendition. The detailed notes on what Beethoven’s third symphony third reference sounds like if there is harmony and if there is a strong stress on the guitar. This for me the absolute winner from this book- since it is far easier to execute the art form than explain the execution of it.

The protagonist is a restless guy, as you would expect from many artists, whose minds always wander around looking for something to feed their ever burning desire to communicate – not in words but their art forms- paintings, music, dance and so on. The restlessness is indicated with the pace at which the sentences are formed. Short sentences bring in the urgency – “I and the verb form”. This is what you observe all through the book where he wishes to tell us about his urgency or restlessness.

“(…) my fixed point in the week is Saturday morning swim. If I lapse there, I will lose all pattern to my days”

Generally, musicians to get a perfect symphony, every chord needs to be strummed with absolute precision in terms of timing, pressure, and harmony with other instruments. Vikram Seth brings this conflict into the routine of the protagonist. He has her all over him – around him – every moment he thinks of her she is there. He needs to means to express himself through and the balance he tries to accomplish in everything he does. Here is where the struggle of a musician surfaces, he needs to maintain harmony in his non-music life to get that music right. But, can he express the vigil somewhere – no he cannot because the seeking is intense.

There is a phase in the book that blows you away when he finds that the person who he loved so much for life is going deaf- for a musician, it’s a nightmare-  He walks to the medical library and finds books to research the deafness.

“I put on the records of Schubert string quintet and it is to the sounding of that music that I make my first acquaintance with the elaborate chaos that lies behind that tiny drumskins of my outer ears”

Overall, Vikram Seth’s “An Equal Music” is a masterpiece in terms of its writing – even though the plot is clichéd- the beauty of lovable characters, their behaviors and the raw sense of articulating music- makes it a beautiful read. It goes through the crests and troughs of extremely emotion opera but leaves with the serenity at the end of it.


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