Book Reviews

5 Books on a theme of music

My experience reading The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny  inspired me to look for more books where music plays a key role. I came up with the following five. I’ve read three of them Vikram Seth, Shaffer and Szpillman and am contemplating making a start on The Piano Teacher soon. Anyone have other suggestions for good musical themed books?

equal music

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth

A tremendous novel about gifted violinist  cannot forget the equally gifted pianist that he loved but lost 10 years earlier. Then she unexpectedly reappears and the romance is rekindled. Against the backdrop of Venice and Vienna, they confront the truth about their relationship and music.


Amadeus by Peter Shaffer

A play which was later turned into a superb film about Mozart’s life and the bitterness felt by his rival Antonio Salieri. Why did God give this uncouth youth such an extraordinary talent, is what Salieri cannot understand. He plots the downfall of his rival.  Read it while listening to get the full impact.


Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

A world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan to an unamed South American nation that hoped he will build a factory in their locale.  Unfortunately terrorists arrive and take all the guests prisoners. The only common language between them is music.

piano teacher

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

Martin and Claire are a  couple of newlyweds who arrive in Hong Kong. He works for the British government and she teaches piano to the daughter of a wealthy Chinese family. Claire begins an affair with the family’s chauffeur, whose imprisonment during the Japanese occupation still haunts him.


The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman

This is the autobiography of the pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman who is trapped in Warsaw during the German invasion of Poland. As a Jew, he is moved to the ghetto with his family with the unbelievable hardship  and cruelty that entails. He eventually escapes but then has to survive on his own wits, hoping that he can stay alive long enough to see the end of the war.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

14 thoughts on “5 Books on a theme of music

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  • I loved the Mozart film. I am a great fan of Ann Patchett’s novels and the Bel Canto is superb. Must look up some of your other titles.

    • Bel Canto keeps cropping up with high recommendations so it should certainly be on my list….

  • swright9

    I like your list. You might add Ishiguro’s “Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall” or perhaps “The Cellist of Sarajevo.” Those are the ones that come to me at this moment. Cheers.

    • I have Nocturnes on the bedside table gathering dust. I will get to read it —- one day.
      thanks for the two recommendations. If I get a couple more i’ll have a top 10 list shortly.

  • How come I missed the fact that you’d read ‘The Beautiful Mystery’? I love Penny’s work and can’t wait for her new one which I think is due in September. Of the others you’ve mentioned here my favourite is ‘An Equal Music’. In fact I was looking at it on the shelf the other day and wondering if the time hadn’t come for a re-read. Seth doesn’t write nearly enough for my liking.

    • I have to go back to the beginning with Penny since this was the only one I’ve read so far but I love her Chief Inspector character. not so keen on his assistant though. And yes absolutely to Equal Music – I keep wondering why I havent re-read that either…

      • Ah you’ve come in at the wrong place to understand Jean Guy. Go back to the beginning and prepare yourself for book six, which rightly took every award going, but which hurts like hell and you will understand what is going on.

        • Thanks for the tip Alex. Will add to the list to read one day. Quite when is another matter

  • Rose Tremain’s Music and Silence comes to mind… along with High Fidelity (Nick Hornby). Um. Hard to think of two more different novels!

    Indeed, your five are all very different too, for all the sharing of themes. Love Amadeus and Bel Canto. I have the Seth but I’m ashamed to say the size of it has so far scared me away from getting stuck in…

    • Ah yes I had forgotten Music and Silence. Its such a long time ago since I read it and I wasn’t that enamoured. Seth’s book might look very chunky but its quite an easy read…. Karen Heenan-Davies


      • Didn’t hate Music and Silence but the incident with the earwig was just stupid… I remember reading it and then staring blankly at the wall for a bit…

        Perhaps the An Equal Music will have to come on holiday this year.

  • I haven’t read the Penny book but I’ve read most of the others you mentioned. Music has always been an important part of my life and I love it when literature and music come together.


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