The branches are bare, the sky tonight a milky violet. It is not quiet here, but it is peaceful. The wind ruffles the black water towards me.
There is no one about. The birds are still. The traffic slashes through Hyde Park. It comes to my ears as white noise.
I test the bench but do not sit down. As yesterday, as the day before, I stand until I have lost my thoughts. I look at the water of the Serpentine.
And that’s about as explosive and action-packed as An Equal Music gets, at least within the first 200 pages – which is about as far as I read before I said aloud, “Oh, please!” in exactly that tone of voice.
The Sunday Times quote on the cover enticed me into buying the book: Seth’s novel is a wonder-work: irresistible, tense, deeply moving.
Well, as far as irresistible goes, I suppose the cover is nice; and I can see how the critic could conceivably have found the book tense if he was reading it whilst simultaneously picking his way through a mine-field wearing clown shoes; but ‘deeply moving’? That’s either a whopping typo (although how do you get ‘moving’ from ‘dreary’?) or he can only have been referring to his lower intestine.
The prose is generally fine and lovely, which almost makes the book worse in that it is such a profligate waste.
I also feel bad, because Vikram Seth – who, if I weren’t trashing his book, I’d call ‘Vik’ – looks like a dude:-
The main problem is the characters: they’re dislikeable. This wouldn’t be problem if they were also intriguing e.g. wittily cruel, or given to sadism (apart from existing as characters in a book I’m reading), or – ideally – engaged in a plot to poison each other. But regrettably, they are uniformly mundane.
Their defining characteristic is that they love music. This doesn’t make them INTERESTING. I mean, I love coffee- no, let’s take something less pedestrian; I love the smell of petrol. Does that make me interesting? – of course not. That would be my intriguing personality.
The plot revolves around the four members of the Maggiore Quartet. There’s Michael, who still suffers an adolescent crush on Julia over ten years later. Helen’s main feature appears to be the flat she inherited from her aunt. Her brother, Piers, is gay and resents living in a basement. The fourth member, Billy, appears to have no purpose in the novel. I stopped reading before a character named ‘Tarquin’ or ‘Fanny’ made an appearance.
The characters face a series of clichés crises: losing a piece of music, contention over who will play first and second violin, how to afford a multi-million pound instrument, whether or not to accept a recording contract.
While I would love to face any of these middle-class concerns crises, they don’t make for dramatic tension.
I couldn’t help but feel that a few corpses would have benefited this book – but unfortunately not saved it.