This novel, by celebrated writer Vikram Seth, is set in contemporary London.
Right from the first chapter, one is enveloped by Michael's life and one slips into it with ease. Short sentences, cryptic descriptions and beautiful stanzas from famous poets at apt moments... all of these add to the rich and unique style of the novel.
When the book opens, Michael and his primary relationships with his violin, the other members of the Maggiore Quartet (comprised by Billy, Helen, Piers and himself), his women, namely, Julia; and his secondary relationships with his father, his aunt and his professor, Carl Kall (a man who is a working influence on him at all times) are the cornerstones of the work.
The story in one of its aspects traces the upward struggle of a quartet against quite a few odds and in that portrayal is successful. The descriptions of the practice sessions, which constitute a large part of the story, are fortunately brilliant. Without the said brilliancy, the novel would be rather flat and lifeless.
On a deeper level, the book follows Michael as his character evolves into maturity, acceptance and wisdom. He is a man like any man: influenced and changed by circumstances in his life and by the people that he meets.
In Seth s orchestrated universe, Music rules - the quartet s career takes off, slowly but surely; music consoles the forsaken protagonist; the woman in his life overcomes barriers to start playing a musical instrument...there s musical harmony and fluidity in the very motion and movement of ideas, incidents and depiction of character.
The pen pictures in this book transport one to that historical capital of England and by the end of the fictional venture one comes away with three things: an almost work-a-day knowledge of London streets and London life; a deeper understanding of the mind of a musician and thirdly, an appreciation of Western Classical music.
I found that, as a whole, this novel doesn't have much point. But, keeping in mind that literature is less about morals and messages and more about art and beauty of thought, this book provided to me an engaging insight into the psyche of a common man living in almost any European country.
Michael's conflicts, choices, interactions with others, feelings towards his profession as violinist - in this delineation the novel excels.
The plot has its pregnant moments along with its humorous and thoughtful ones. One identifies with Michael as one does with few other characters. This is because Vikram Seth can make one feel every emotion his people do.
All in all, a wholesome read.This article was first published on 01 Mar 2000.