An Unequal Music – Vikram Seth


To sustain my new year resolution to read more books this year, I have to find a source of books. Now Bangkok is not the best place to be looking for English books. Bookshops tend to stock only the mass-market thrillers. You could get a more eclectic selection at Kinokuniya but it’d cost you an arm and a leg, plus the additional books would take up more space in my little apartment. Unlike in Singapore where the libraries are veritable troves of information, the very small and very few libraries in Bangkok have a rather sad collection of English books. Alternatively I could buy e-books and read them on my iPad, but it gets heavy after a while.

So thanks to another friend who’s working overseas and has been surviving by borrowing books from other expat friends, I came up with the brilliant idea of borrowing books from my Aussie boss! I told him that I’ve always preferred the classic authors (or in his words, dead people) as I find most contemporary writers to be too self-serving in their writing. Just think of Eat, Pray, Love – that was one book I had to put down after five pages (and I usually try to finish a book once I’ve started it no matter how bad it is) because I was about to puke from the author’s navel-gazing me-me-me writing. Compare that to Ernest Hemingway who sketches a picture and dissects a situation with the most economical and incisive of words.

So he’s taken upon himself the mission of introducing me to good writers who are still alive. An Unequal Music was the first book from his library. He said he chose it because I love and play music. Plus it’s set in England, so what’s not to like?

I looked at the name and I wrinkled my nose at him. We have an Indian colleague who writes in the most convoluted “Inglish” ever. You can cut down his writing to half the original length to no discernible loss of meaning. But nonetheless, I gave it a try.

The beautiful story’s about quartets, fugue and lots of Bach. It’s about a man and a woman finding and losing each other, and finding and losing each other again through a deep love for the music they both share. It made me realise that the Bach I was forced to play for piano exams had stories of love and loss behind them. I used to hate fugues with a vengeance because Bach seemed to have composed them to be played by two people instead of two hands controlled by a single brain. But Vikram Seth made the fugues seem so romantic and mysterious that I actually ferreted out my Bach music and played them again.

All in all, a poignantly evocative read that leaves you with a wistfulness akin to the sun setting on a particularly good day.


3 thoughts on “An Unequal Music – Vikram Seth

  1. Hi! I have not read much of Vikram Seth other than what we were made to read back when we were in school. One in 1999, and another in 2001. Both poems. I am not much fan of Poems (they are so mysterious), but i liked both of them. I have been meaning to read more of Vikram Seth, but it has simply piled on to the list of authors i want to read, but have not. If you are interested, you can give it a go at Malaika, and The Nightingale. The former is more poignant, and in a way reflects the coming of age of an average Indian girl (if i remember correctly), i dare say, if not all. The later is more funny and humorous. i suppose a quirky take on human nature and their various shortcomings. .

    • Hello!
      Thanks for the recommendations! I certainly must check out the poems, he has such a great sense of rhythm and beauty of words. I’ve been told to read The Suitable Boy but it’s a really big book. Have you read it? I’ve just started on a book by Orhan Pamuk, so would have to circle back to Vikram Seth at some point in time. πŸ™‚

      • no. Actually i haven’t. and sadly i don’t think i will be able to read it any time soon. My table has a pile of books that i haven’t read yet. I’ve been meaning to, but i guess i’m just plain lazy. if i read 10-15 books a year, than I consider it a good year. so you can guess by that how little i read. But, as i said, Vikram Seth is in my “to read” list. i just hope i don’t die before i read them. fingers crossed. πŸ™‚

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