I have never gone as low and as fast in my opinion of a book as with 'An Equal Music'. After the first 25 pages, I felt that I'd stumbled on to something incredible (no doubt helped by the very simple writing, which was a refreshing change from Salman Rushdie's tediousness); but after a 100 pages it became clear that it was incredible, just the wrong type - incredibly bad.
The story is about a violinist who is reunited with his lost love after 10 years. She has re-married and has a child, yet sees nothing wrong in getting involved with him again, with remarkably little wooing from him. They have fun for a while and then she leaves him again. I know I make it sound crass, but that really is the story. There's a lot of musical stuff involved, as both of them are musicians, but that is incidental to the story.
For a book that presumes to talk about emotions and sensibilities, it is remarkably devoid of sentiment and feeling. That's the first problem. The other problem with this book, an ostentatiously realistic novel, is that it is not grounded in reality. There is no semblance of consistency, logic, even common sense to either the story, the narrative, or the characters. The narrative progresses at such a slow pace that even a snail would get tired following it. There's no thread of consistency or even a shred of believability about the protagonists' actions. Its as if they don't think at all; and all their actions and words are based on whims! The lead character is so contradictory that one gets the feeling that 4 or 5 diametrically opposite personalities have been squeezed into one. All this is very bad. What pushes it to infuriatingly bad, is that the two protagonists living in a very real world with very real problems, are so far removed from reality. It is hard to feel anything but contempt and strong loathing for them. As if that weren't bad enough, these inconsistent characters show an appalling lack of moral strength as well.
And the last straw? The writing becomes more and more pretentious as the story progresses. As if, at the beginning the writer wasn't sure about his abilities and as the book became longer he realized that he has suddenly become a good writer. To paraphrase a very apt quote - 'Its not the quantity of pages written, but the quality on the pages, that makes a good writer'.
The praise for this book was led by the Daily Telegraph - "The finest novel about music ever written in English". I will counter that verdict with mine - "A most infuriating book with the worst conceived and realized characters that I've ever come across in any book".