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An Equal Music by Vikram Seth

“Is it not love that knows how to make smooth things rough and rough things smooth?”

– Vikram Seth, An Equal Music

Honestly, I never imagined reading Vikram Seth - I’ve had a lot of people, including my mother, criticise him, particularly for “Suitable Boy”. Luckily, Amrutha Whatsherlastnameits convinced me otherwise, and I’m rather grateful for that. I can’t remember a more beautifully written book. The following does have some plot spoilers, but that takes little away from the beauty.

Like any deeply moving story, “An Equal Music” does not focus as much on the progression of a plot, but rather singularly delves into a character – his or her thoughts and feelings. The protagonist, Michael, is a middle-aged professional musician; the complexity of his life, no different than that of our own lives, is introduced with elegant grace. His personal life is in shambles, but he manages to move on, his music holding him together. His relations with his father are awkward ever since the death of his mother; his beloved violin, a gift from a benevolent old lady, is now being coveted by his benefactors’ relations. In all this, his own personal ghost, Julie, a woman he never stopped loving, yet was forced to run from many years in the past, returns.

Learning of her growing deafness, Michael tries to get her to play again, determined not to lose the music that brought them together so many years ago. Like a refrain after the first movement, they go on tour, visiting all their old haunts. Yet, she must weigh her son and family in the balance. The loss destroys Michael, and in piercing irony, he finds himself the one unable to play any more.

Vikram Seth so expertly sketches all the little details of the story that you are, for the lack of a better word, emotionally kidnapped. You feel Michael’s emotional turmoil, and after all, to feel vividly, c’est la vie.