Review: THE ENSEMBLE by Aja Gabel

Janelle Advance Copy, Book Reviews, Contemporary, From Publisher, Literary Fiction, Riverhead Books 0 Comments

Thank you so much Riverhead Books for my free copy – all opinions are my own.

Book Description: 

Jana. Brit. Daniel. Henry. They would never have been friends if they hadn’t needed each other. They would never have found each other except for the art which drew them together. They would never have become family without their love for the music, for each other. Brit is the second violinist, a beautiful and quiet orphan; on the viola is Henry, a prodigy who’s always had it easy; the cellist is Daniel, the oldest and an angry skeptic who sleeps around; and on first violin is Jana, their flinty, resilient leader. Together, they are the Van Ness Quartet. After the group’s youthful, rocky start, they experience devastating failure and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty. They are always tied to each other – by career, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry, by choosing each other over and over again.

My Review: 

This lovely debut novel follows four musicians from graduate school through to their life in the Van Ness String Quartet. The narrative is the quartet’s story as a whole, but also each individual story of Jana, Henry, Daniel, and Brit. The book is divided into four sections and each section is headed with three famous works of classical music for strings. I thought that was a really nice touch! We see these characters’ entwined experiences, ambitions, relationships, and heartbreak, all with the beautiful backdrop of classical music.

The prose is gorgeous and the way the book is constructed is almost like a piece of music in itself. It’s lyrical, intelligent, sensorial, and insightful. I had no idea the life of a musician in a quartet is like being in a very close knit family as all four have to make career decisions as one. It was completely fascinating! Gabel is a cellist herself, and it certainly shows; she made the classical music come alive, which made for such a brilliant reading experience.

I didn’t love one character over the other, so I definitely read them as pieces of the whole. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not, but I trust the author was pointing me to that conclusion. I did not have to be a musician to enjoy the book, however I did find myself asking my husband questions because he played an instrument. But I love to learn about new things and I think the musical plot is what makes this story so unique and interesting. THE ENSEMBLE is a wonderful book that made me immediately want to listen to classical music.

My rating is 4.5 out of 5 stars!

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