Thank you to Riverhead Books and Netgalley for an early review copy of The Ensemble by Aja Gabel, which will publish May 15, 2018. All thoughts are my own.
From the publisher:
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.
Aja Gabel’s debut novel, The Ensemble, had me from the start. Do you ever read the first few pages of a book and just know that you’re going to love it? That was my experience with The Ensemble. Every word, every paragraph, every page gripped me indescribably. It’s been a while since I’ve been truly pulled into a book. The Ensemble was my most anticipated release of this year and it did not disappoint!
Music plays a big role in The Ensemble– not just in its plot, but in its development too. The story ebbs and flows like the most beautiful of melodies, and Gabel’s writing style has a distinct musical quality; it’s lyrical and streamlike but abrupt at all the right places, just like the music her characters play. Not only that, but it moves at the perfect pace: fast enough to suck me in, but slow enough to enjoy every single word.
The four main characters, Jana, Brit, Daniel, and Henry are written in harmony of one another; they are all heavily flawed but those flaws help to complement the other characters. I can’t say I fell in love with them, but I was definitely able to relate to each of them on some level. The novel spans about twenty years or so, and I enjoyed seeing how Jana, Brit, Daniel, and Henry changed over time. I was particularly drawn to Henry, the young prodigy who never makes mistakes, who has it easy, until suddenly he doesn’t. The book is divided up pretty evenly in terms of which characters the chapters focus on, but I’d say the main focus was on Henry and his many struggles.
I adored Aja Gabel’s The Ensemble, and looked forward to any spare time I had so that I could return to it! Fans of character-driven novels will fall in love with The Ensemble.
Read if you liked: (1) A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara for its intense quartet of characters and exploration of deep-rooted relationships; (2) The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer for the New York City ambiance and long-standing friendships followed through decades; (3) The Secret History by Donna Tartt for its vivid coming-of-age story and true-to-life characters.