I didn’t even know he was writing [The Ground Beneath Her Feet] until we were both in the course of publication. I can’t speak for him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t know either. So there was no way one could avoid it. Anyway, how could he write about classical music unless he was impelled to? And how could I write about rock unless it came from within me? And you know [laughs], I assure you the idea of our divvying up the field is pretty absurd. Love is a huge subject, music is a huge subject, and the fact that two writers from the same part of the world happen to be writing about it at the same time isn’t surprising. If we were both Icelandic poets writing verse sagas about the cravat, or the cummerbund, then one might suspect something was going on!
An Equal Music has got mostly terrific reviews, but it’s also been criticized for, among other things, having overly conservative views about classical music and for being a novella stretched out into a novel. Do you read your reviews?
I do read my reviews. I know the review you’re referring to. It was written by a novelist who, of all people, should know that a first-person narrative incorporates the tastes and dislikes of the so-called narrator, not of the novelist. I mean, it’s like saying if someone writes an autobiography of a cat, they must have a tail!
That’s very funny.
That’s rather good, isn’t it? I must keep that. So, I mean, here I am, I’ve written a libretto for a modern composer — not Michael, I, Vikram — written and composed for a modern composer (Alec Roth, a wonderful composer), and I don’t have any inbuilt prejudice against modern music. It depends on what it is, really. I go by individual pieces and individual composers, and some I like and some I don’t.
As far as being a novella stretched out, you could say A Suitable Boy was a short story stretched out, or even a haiku. The only thing is, does it work? That’s eventually how one judges a work of art. It’s a very private communication between the writer and reader. If it doesn’t work, the author can excuse himself as much as he likes, it’s completely irrelevant. And if it does work, the critic can carp as much as he likes. It’s equally irrelevant.
Did you visit L.A. much when you lived in San Francisco?
I did. I have a very good friend in L.A., Timothy Steele, who I think is one of the great American poets. In fact, I dedicated The Golden Gate to him. Perhaps you remember the poem at the beginning of the book. "If anything in this should grate/Ascribe it to its natal state;/If anything in this engages/By verse, veracity, or vim/You know whom I must credit, Tim."
Are there any contemporary novelists you feel a kinship with?
I don’t read very many novels. I don’t really believe in long books. They take a long time to read, if you think of it.
That’s a rather remarkable statement coming from the author ofA Suitable Boy.
Yes, I think I’d better end this interview — I’m going to condemn myself out of my own mouth!
(And, rather hurriedly, Mr. Seth said goodnight and hung up the phone.)
Vikram Seth will read fromAn Equal Music at Vroman’s in Pasadena on Tuesday, May 11, at 7 p.m., and at Dutton’s Brentwood on Wednesday, May 12, at 7 p.m.