The Ensemble
The addictive debut novel about four young friends navigating the cutthroat world of music and their complex relationships with each other, as ambition, passion, and love intertwine over the course of their lives.Brit is the second violinist, a beautiful and quiet orphan; the viola is Henry, a prodigy who’s always had it easy; the cellist is Daniel, the oldest, the angry skeptic who sleeps around; and on first violin is Jana, their flinty, resilient leader. Together, they are the Van Ness String Quartet.In The Ensemble, each character picks up the melody, from the group’s youthful rocky start through to adulthood. As they navigate devastating failures and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty, they are always tied together—by career, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry together, and by choosing each other over and over again.Following these four unforgettable characters, Aja Gabel’s debut novel gives a behind-the-scenes look into the highly competitive, mysterious world of high-level musicians. The story of Brit and Henry and Daniel and Jana, The Ensemble is a heart-skipping portrait of ambition, friendship, and the tenderness of youth.

The Ensemble Details

TitleThe Ensemble
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 15th, 2018
PublisherRiverhead
ISBN-139780735214767
Rating
GenreFiction, Contemporary, Music, Literary Fiction

The Ensemble Review

  • Diane S ☔
    January 1, 1970
    A while back I decided to quit reading most of the summarys posted for books. The reason I stopped doing this is that I felt too much of the book was being given away. I do, however, read the first paragraph of these summarys, just to get a general idea of the book. I was drawn to this one because it stated it was an addictive read, plus it was about music, and seemed a little different from that which I usually read. Surprisingly enough I did find this addictive.The lives of four member of a mu A while back I decided to quit reading most of the summarys posted for books. The reason I stopped doing this is that I felt too much of the book was being given away. I do, however, read the first paragraph of these summarys, just to get a general idea of the book. I was drawn to this one because it stated it was an addictive read, plus it was about music, and seemed a little different from that which I usually read. Surprisingly enough I did find this addictive.The lives of four member of a musical quartet, two men, one a prodigy on the viola, one a cello player and two women violinists. How they came together, their hopes for their careers, how they try to balance having a personal life while maintaining and rising in a career that takes everything. It is divided into four sections, the heading of each section includes a musical score. I looked for these on YouTube and played them as I read along. In the beginning I was quickly taken by two of these members, the other two were more difficult for me to like. One had a giant chip on his shoulder, and one of the woman seemed cold, unbendable, but as I read, as the characters grew along with their careers, matured in their playing and personalities, I embraced all four. I loved how the author marked the passage of time, eighteen years they would play together, knowing each other better in many ways than their partners in life. I enjoyed so much about this book, following these very flawed characters, their love for their music, the difficulties in maintaining a relationship with each other, and lastly how far they progressed emotionally and musically after all those years. "It had to do with time. Time looked different when you were young, and whatever foolishness you engaged in was undiluted-thsre was always the possibility that the next promised moment would carry you somewhere else,always the possibility of more flames, more beats, more life. Time, when you were older,was smethng different, irregular."ARC from Edelweiss.
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  • Elyse
    January 1, 1970
    Audiobook...narrated by the wonderful *Rebecca Lowman*.Author Aja Gabel completely won me over......A pitch-perfect debut.It’s filled with sharp observations about the choices one makes between love, work, and friendships. The interrelationships between Brit, Daniel, Jana, & Henry...members of the string quartet...and their outside relationships were complicated- yet that’s what made the book interesting. “The Ensemble” reminds me a little of the television series “Mozart in the Jungle”....a Audiobook...narrated by the wonderful *Rebecca Lowman*.Author Aja Gabel completely won me over......A pitch-perfect debut.It’s filled with sharp observations about the choices one makes between love, work, and friendships. The interrelationships between Brit, Daniel, Jana, & Henry...members of the string quartet...and their outside relationships were complicated- yet that’s what made the book interesting. “The Ensemble” reminds me a little of the television series “Mozart in the Jungle”....a show I loved. Other times, the ‘feel’ of “A Little Life”...a book I loved. The audiobook was a great!!!! REBECCA LOMAN just ‘can’t do bad’. She’s one of my favorite Audiobook readers...bringing the best out of novels. Gorgeous writing. I felt I knew the characters- flaws and all. **A bonus... this story takes place in San Francisco. The city that changes from block to block. Music 🎶 to my ears-enjoyable!!!
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  • Victoria
    January 1, 1970
    This is a remarkable debut as much for its portrayal of ambitious musicians in the world of classical music, as it is for its depiction of growing into adulthood within that rarified world. I was surprised at how addicting I found the stories of these four friends and how captivated I became with the music they were creating. With no musical inclination whatsoever--unless you count baton twirling with the marching band--I was immersed in every note and I found so much of it deeply absorbing.What This is a remarkable debut as much for its portrayal of ambitious musicians in the world of classical music, as it is for its depiction of growing into adulthood within that rarified world. I was surprised at how addicting I found the stories of these four friends and how captivated I became with the music they were creating. With no musical inclination whatsoever--unless you count baton twirling with the marching band--I was immersed in every note and I found so much of it deeply absorbing.What was remarkable in the performance, however, was that these four people, they contained everything…I think many of us strive for community and family, but often find it difficult…but it is possible. It is possible to arrange your life around art, and to find, in that art, a kind of love that grows...that changes, goes away, comes back.It is that intertwining of their lives that I found the most fascinating, how they arranged their lives around the chamber ensemble, subverted their private dreams and desires, yet found the same ebb and flow as all lives do. What begins as a percussive piece in their 20s, picks up momentum when they reach their 30’s, and eventually comes together as a beautiful melody in their 40s..…he thought of his life as a piece of music, sonata form, one that progressed through movements, in which the motif became clearer and clearer through repetition and variation, until the third movement, the menuet, when the theme distilled down to a simple, sing-able song.Rich characterization, lyrical prose and a captivating narrative about life, love, friendship and music as art form made for a deeply satisfying and enriching read. I highly recommend this noteworthy debut.Thank you to Riverhead Books and all involved in this Goodreads Giveaway. I was going to read this anyway, but it was all the more exciting to have won an early copy.
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  • Celeste Ng
    January 1, 1970
    In the tradition of THE INTERESTINGS and THE SECRET HISTORY, THE ENSEMBLE teases apart the strands of an intense and long-lasting group friendship that both bolsters and binds its members. Aja Gabel's powerful debut offers a sensitive portrait of four young musicians forging their paths through life: sometimes at odds with each other, sometimes in harmony, but always inextricably linked by their shared pasts.
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  • Thomas
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 starsI liked this debut novel about four young musicians who come together to form the Van Ness Quartet. The group includes first violin Jana, their resilient and headstrong leader, second violin Brit, the consistent and sweet orphan, Henry on the viola, the prodigy who has gotten everything he wants in life, and Daniel playing cello, the oldest and angriest of the group. The Ensemble follows this chamber group's rocky start to its glorious heights. Amidst their music comes drama in their in 3.5 starsI liked this debut novel about four young musicians who come together to form the Van Ness Quartet. The group includes first violin Jana, their resilient and headstrong leader, second violin Brit, the consistent and sweet orphan, Henry on the viola, the prodigy who has gotten everything he wants in life, and Daniel playing cello, the oldest and angriest of the group. The Ensemble follows this chamber group's rocky start to its glorious heights. Amidst their music comes drama in their individual lives and their relationships, spanning heartbreak and marriage, shared joys and bitter resentments, and feelings of connection as well as abandonment. The driving force of this group: how they always come back to one another, again and again and again.I appreciated this book's emphasis on art and friendship. Aja Gabel, a former cellist, portrays the musical world well. She incorporates the hours and hours of rehearsal, the unique intimacy that comes with a shared bond with fellow musicians, and the struggle to balance an artistic life with other relationships and goals. I do not have much of a musical background, so this aspect of the book may resonate even more with those who do. Furthermore, Gabel's focus on a group of friends warmed my heart. Rarely do we see books that honor the power of friendship, so I feel grateful that Gabel centered the experiences of these four friends, their merriment and discontent and everything in between.I just wish I had felt closer to these characters. I wanted more development of their individual interior lives, like what drew each of them to music, their feelings about their music, how their pasts affect them, etc. I also wish we had gotten more interactions between the four, as I felt that relationships each of them had with individuals outside of the group shifted the spotlight from deepening or adding nuance to their bonds with one another. Toward the end of the book, some characters notice how other characters have changed since their shared youth. I wish we could have seen more of this change throughout the book, as opposed to being told about it afterward.Still, a good read I would recommend to to music fans and books that span the adult life course. I look forward to reading Gabel's next work.
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  • Jennifer Blankfein
    January 1, 1970
    The Ensemble is a great summer read – a wonderful debut about four quartet musicians and their lives together from right out of school to adulthood – what they gave up and what they earned, the love they developed and the family they created. The Van Ness Quartet consists of Jana, first violinist and leader, Brit, the quiet, second violinist, Daniel the older cellist and playboy, and Henry the violist prodigy. Author Aja Gabel skillfully links them together by their shared musical experiences, e The Ensemble is a great summer read – a wonderful debut about four quartet musicians and their lives together from right out of school to adulthood – what they gave up and what they earned, the love they developed and the family they created. The Van Ness Quartet consists of Jana, first violinist and leader, Brit, the quiet, second violinist, Daniel the older cellist and playboy, and Henry the violist prodigy. Author Aja Gabel skillfully links them together by their shared musical experiences, emotional connections and their intertwined lives.Through musical and personal challenges, emotional and physical relationships and breakups, private and career successes and failures, this foursome grows into their own as individual musicians and human beings as well as a group, making beautiful music together that just gets richer with age. These friends and music partners experience harmonious relationships along with plenty of friction, but they are committed to their craft and each other to live the lives of professional musicians…together.This book gives us an inside look at what it is like to be a classical musician and play in a quartet for 20 years…a wonderful story – very enjoyable! Follow all reviews on Book Nation by Jen.
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  • Taryn Pierson
    January 1, 1970
    If you grew up playing a string instrument, The Ensemble will bring that dusty rosin smell right back to you. You probably knew people like Brit, Henry, Daniel, and Jana, the four characters who make up the titular string quartet--I know I did. Even if you’ve never spent any time with a bow in your hand, though, I predict you’ll get sucked into the cutthroat yet pristinely classy world of elite musicians. This is the kind of book where the shifting dynamics between the characters are the real at If you grew up playing a string instrument, The Ensemble will bring that dusty rosin smell right back to you. You probably knew people like Brit, Henry, Daniel, and Jana, the four characters who make up the titular string quartet--I know I did. Even if you’ve never spent any time with a bow in your hand, though, I predict you’ll get sucked into the cutthroat yet pristinely classy world of elite musicians. This is the kind of book where the shifting dynamics between the characters are the real attraction.Because how can there not be drama when four very different people walk a career path together for decades? Quartets are collaborative; they only succeed when every person is pulling their weight. When one person is off, or, say, when two people in the group aren’t getting along, it throws off the rhythm of the whole ensemble. And in order to stay together, the four have to make decisions as one, which can be complicated when each person is trying to live their own life.Although the passages describing music are admittedly a bit inside baseball, if you like literary fiction, you should give this one a go. Also recommended if you enjoy reading about unusual careers, complex group dynamics, and angsty artists making art.More book recommendations by me at www.readingwithhippos.com
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  • Fareya
    January 1, 1970
    The Ensemble is a gorgeously written contemporary about four very different people brought together by the common dream of being recognized in the field of classical music. With excellent character development and an insightful portrayal of the intricate relationship shared by quartet musicians, Aja Gabel has woven a beautiful story about what it is like to be a professional classical music player and part of a quartet for almost two decades. Although, a lot of musical reference throughout the b The Ensemble is a gorgeously written contemporary about four very different people brought together by the common dream of being recognized in the field of classical music. With excellent character development and an insightful portrayal of the intricate relationship shared by quartet musicians, Aja Gabel has woven a beautiful story about what it is like to be a professional classical music player and part of a quartet for almost two decades. Although, a lot of musical reference throughout the book went completely over my head because (sadly) my knowledge of classical music is pathetically lacking, I still enjoyed its wonderful prose and the constantly changing complex group dynamics of the four lead characters. Recommended if you like character oriented literary fiction and classical music. For more reviews visit my blog Booktimistic - Books, Outdoors & Optimism**Thank you Riverhead Books and Goodreads for my copy. I won this in the Goodreads giveaway**
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  • Dianne
    January 1, 1970
    Nicely done debut novel about a classical string quartet that spans the sixteen years following their graduate school recital to their last concert together. It's a coming of age story, with a musical twist.The chapters alternate between each musician - Jana (first violin), Britt (second violin), Henry (viola) and Daniel (cello) - and one spouse, Kimiko. Each of the characters have their own backstories, flaws, foibles and differing levels of talent. It's interesting to see them through each oth Nicely done debut novel about a classical string quartet that spans the sixteen years following their graduate school recital to their last concert together. It's a coming of age story, with a musical twist.The chapters alternate between each musician - Jana (first violin), Britt (second violin), Henry (viola) and Daniel (cello) - and one spouse, Kimiko. Each of the characters have their own backstories, flaws, foibles and differing levels of talent. It's interesting to see them through each other's eyes and to follow along as they grow into their individual selves while at the same time, they are binding themselves to each other as the entity that is the quartet.This is a very introspective and "talky" novel. The author muses and ponders and analyzes everything to the nth degree. There's not a ton of plot here and things develop quite slowly. This, for me, is one of those books that I liked, but didn't particularly feel excited about picking up again. It did not COMPEL me. I appreciate the author's talent, but this felt overwritten to me - overly weightyOverall, I did enjoy this peek into the world of classical musicians - the competitiveness, the physicality (who knew?), and the demands it makes on one's life.
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  • Rebecca Foster
    January 1, 1970
    In May 1994, the members of the Van Ness String Quartet are completing their final graduate recital at a San Francisco conservatory and preparing for the Esterhazy quartet competition in the Canadian Rockies. These four talented musicians – Jana, first violin; Brit, second violin; Henry, viola; and Daniel, cello – have no idea what the next 15 years will hold for them: a cross-country move, romances begun and lost, and career successes and failures. Drawing on her own history as a violinist and In May 1994, the members of the Van Ness String Quartet are completing their final graduate recital at a San Francisco conservatory and preparing for the Esterhazy quartet competition in the Canadian Rockies. These four talented musicians – Jana, first violin; Brit, second violin; Henry, viola; and Daniel, cello – have no idea what the next 15 years will hold for them: a cross-country move, romances begun and lost, and career successes and failures. Drawing on her own history as a violinist and cellist, Aja Gabel infuses her debut novel with the simultaneous uncertainty and euphoria of both the artistic life and early adulthood in general. An alternating close third-person perspective gives glimpses into the main characters’ inner lives, and there are evocative descriptions of classical music. I think The Ensemble will mean even more to those readers who are involved in music, but anyone can relate to the slow fade from youth into middle age and the struggle to integrate art with the rest of life.See my full review at BookBrowse. (See also my article on string quartets.)
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  • Kate
    January 1, 1970
    I think this will be my favorite book of the year! THE ENSEMBLE follows four musicians over a decade and a half, beginning with their string quartet debut in graduate school, and then dropping in at two- to four-year increments. The quartet's story (and their stories as individuals) is so familiar to anyone who has been seriously involved in classical music. As a former clarinetist (well, someone who still plays but with no professional aspirations), I took many pauses while reading this book - I think this will be my favorite book of the year! THE ENSEMBLE follows four musicians over a decade and a half, beginning with their string quartet debut in graduate school, and then dropping in at two- to four-year increments. The quartet's story (and their stories as individuals) is so familiar to anyone who has been seriously involved in classical music. As a former clarinetist (well, someone who still plays but with no professional aspirations), I took many pauses while reading this book - basically whenever I read something that felt a little too familiar and sent me away into my own memories. Sometimes I saw myself in these characters; sometimes I recognized friends or colleagues. The characters are drawn so realistically that I think this will be true even if you've never played an instrument, though. The way Aja Gabel (a former cellist) writes about music is truly stunning. She writes musically! Her writing style mimics the music she's describing. Her sentences read like phrases. It's everything I've ever aimed for when I write about music. Also, each of the four sections of the book begins with a list of three works for strings - if you've never heard of them, it won't hurt your reading experience at all, but if you HAVE, you're in for a treat. For example, it almost feels like a spoiler to say that Beethoven's C-sharp minor quartet is one of the ones listed for the third section. I highly recommend listening to the works described in the book, especially if you're unfamiliar with the Beethoven or the Shostakovich third quartet, both of which are referenced heavily. If, like me, you love books that follow multiple characters throughout their lives, this is a wonderful example of that kind of book. But if you're a musician, this book will resonate with you on an even deeper level.
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  • Jamie
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this. I loved it I loved it. Never have I read such glorious writing about music and about musicians. I want to say something poetic about how the author builds the four characters into a harmony even when they're pushing against one another in dissonance, and how it's about a quartet but it reads like a symphony but I'll just say that I loved it and leave it there.
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  • Susan
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed this book and the story of four musicians. It is one of those books in which not much really happens but it spans many years and is a great character study. It was beautifully written. But I felt there were just parts my eyes would just skip over and that there was a lot of filler that got tedious. I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
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  • Lauren Fanella
    January 1, 1970
    4.5⭐ Stellar writing with such complex and rich characters and relationships. Blown away that this is a debut novel. Loved being immersed in this world of classical music. 4.5⭐️ Stellar writing with such complex and rich characters and relationships. Blown away that this is a debut novel. Loved being immersed in this world of classical music.
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  • Katie Avagliano
    January 1, 1970
    Okay. Okay. I was looking forward to reading this for months because I thought it would be like “The Interestings.” It’s not. I was about twenty pages in before I flipped to the author bio to see if Gabel had graduated from a writing program. She had. It’s a book that reminds me of everything I don’t like about literary fiction, MFA program fiction - you can’t even get into the story, loose as it is, without getting mired in backstory and interiority. It’s a book that’s supposedly about an ensem Okay. Okay. I was looking forward to reading this for months because I thought it would be like “The Interestings.” It’s not. I was about twenty pages in before I flipped to the author bio to see if Gabel had graduated from a writing program. She had. It’s a book that reminds me of everything I don’t like about literary fiction, MFA program fiction - you can’t even get into the story, loose as it is, without getting mired in backstory and interiority. It’s a book that’s supposedly about an ensemble but the four members of the ensemble rarely interact with each other in present time - most interactions are in the past, thought about, sans dialogue. We are assured, as readers, that the ensemble is codependantly close, but they barely interact on the page. There’s hardly a story on the page at all, just musings and backstory. Ugh. Disappointing to have waited months for this story only to find nothing at all. Also, not surprised that Gabel was a student of Alexander Cher’s because I had all the same issues with “Queen of the Night.” I’m sure this is an excellent book for others, but is summertime and I just want a damn story.
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  • Janelle
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you so much Riverhead Books for my free copy of THE ENSEMBLE by Aja Gabel - all opinions are my own.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 tou Thank you so much Riverhead Books for my free copy of THE ENSEMBLE by Aja Gabel - all opinions are my own.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 stars!
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  • Rod-Kelly Hines
    January 1, 1970
    2.5 Stars...The Ensemble's premise is interesting enough: a story about the inner lives of the members of the Van Ness String Quartet from 1994-2009. However, this novel suffered from a great deal of technical weakness. There's a certain lack of rhythm that makes for pretty slow reading for a novel with only 330 pages. (I've been noticing this lack of rhythm in a lot of debut novels lately!) I felt so distanced from the main characters, and ironically, it was because of the long digressions into 2.5 Stars...The Ensemble's premise is interesting enough: a story about the inner lives of the members of the Van Ness String Quartet from 1994-2009. However, this novel suffered from a great deal of technical weakness. There's a certain lack of rhythm that makes for pretty slow reading for a novel with only 330 pages. (I've been noticing this lack of rhythm in a lot of debut novels lately!) I felt so distanced from the main characters, and ironically, it was because of the long digressions into their inner lives and thoughts. As a reader, I enjoy knowing these things, but the execution felt inauthentic and left me cold. Another thing is that the writing can be a little sentimental, and quite pedantic concerning the emotions that the protagonists experience, on the verge of being cliche for most of the book. I'm a professional musician and I thought the strongest scenes were the quartet's performances and rehearsals. Those scenes felt the most realistic and relatable for me.
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  • Readingbringsjoy
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you @riverheadbooks for providing me with a free review copyThe Ensemble was a book that took me a very long time to finish. For the first half I was expecting a completely different story line and pacing, and because I went into with the wrong idea I could not get into the story or feel invested in the characters. Once I figured out that the book was more about the friendship of four people who play in a musical quartet then about the behind the drama behind the scenes of a quartet group Thank you @riverheadbooks for providing me with a free review copyThe Ensemble was a book that took me a very long time to finish. For the first half I was expecting a completely different story line and pacing, and because I went into with the wrong idea I could not get into the story or feel invested in the characters. Once I figured out that the book was more about the friendship of four people who play in a musical quartet then about the behind the drama behind the scenes of a quartet group then the story really opened up to me in a much better way. I orignally thought this book would be fast paced and read more like a beach read, but instead it moved quietly along through the start of the groups quartet career and continue through the years of their friendship and career. I enjoyed the second half of this book more then the first half, and that may be circumstantial to my life because I had a lot going on when I started this book. After I finished the book I decided I was glad I had read it, and I understand why @annebogel chose it for a Summer Reading guide pick. There is a lot to discuss. I am giving this book a higher rating because it’s been days since I finished the book and I am still thinking about it.
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  • Kari Ann Sweeney
    January 1, 1970
    This cover is positively swoon worthy- right? Gorgeous!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀This novel follows the four members of a chamber ensemble over the course of their lives and careers. It was truly a study in character and relationships. It was a unique example of how expectations and dreams can become intertwined. How friends/colleagues can start to feel like family. I thought the writing was stunning.
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  • Laurie
    January 1, 1970
    It pains me to say this, because I SHOULD have loved this book. I play the violin. I loved playing chamber music in string quartets. This book is on most summer reading lists for 2018. But I quit it on page 150. The main characters are selfish and neurotic and cynical; they didn't even exhibit real friendship (in the pages I read). Even the descriptions of the music, instruments and performances fell flat for me. I have learned my lesson after The Nest; any book in which the characters exhibit z It pains me to say this, because I SHOULD have loved this book. I play the violin. I loved playing chamber music in string quartets. This book is on most summer reading lists for 2018. But I quit it on page 150. The main characters are selfish and neurotic and cynical; they didn't even exhibit real friendship (in the pages I read). Even the descriptions of the music, instruments and performances fell flat for me. I have learned my lesson after The Nest; any book in which the characters exhibit zero warmth or hope will not be allowed to take up my reading time. Especially in the summer.
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  • Katelyn
    January 1, 1970
    Added: 4.5 stars. A few weeks later I still can't stop thinking about this book and I now love to watch YouTube videos of quartets.Wow. At first I didn't think I'd keep with this book, but I became completely immersed in Gabel's story of four musicians who form a quartet and then I couldn't put it down. She follows the quartet from conservatory to middle age as they grow and stretch in their professional and personal lives. Gabel shows how by necessity of their profession, their lives intertwine Added: 4.5 stars. A few weeks later I still can't stop thinking about this book and I now love to watch YouTube videos of quartets.Wow. At first I didn't think I'd keep with this book, but I became completely immersed in Gabel's story of four musicians who form a quartet and then I couldn't put it down. She follows the quartet from conservatory to middle age as they grow and stretch in their professional and personal lives. Gabel shows how by necessity of their profession, their lives intertwine and they form intense relationships with each other.Best paired with You Tube videos of quartets. It made me appreciate them so much more. Just incredible. Clearly written by someone with chamber music experience. Highly recommended.
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  • Matthew
    January 1, 1970
    During the “Coda” of her debut, The Ensemble, author Aja Gabel writes: “We weren’t yet full people, but we were required to pretend to be. We thought that together we could pretend to be until we were.” It’s as concise a statement that could be made regarding the title characters that anchor Gabel’s novel, a string quartet that evolve as musicians yet never quite match this growth in seemingly all other aspects of life. It’s typical in most cutthroat professions, the pressure to succeed and the During the “Coda” of her debut, The Ensemble, author Aja Gabel writes: “We weren’t yet full people, but we were required to pretend to be. We thought that together we could pretend to be until we were.” It’s as concise a statement that could be made regarding the title characters that anchor Gabel’s novel, a string quartet that evolve as musicians yet never quite match this growth in seemingly all other aspects of life. It’s typical in most cutthroat professions, the pressure to succeed and the passion put forth in order to do so often putting everything else on the back burner. And it’s where The Ensemble shines most. Sadly it’s one of the few bright spots in this frustratingly uneven work. The Ensemble in question is made up of Jana on first violin; Brit on second violin; Henry on viola; and Daniel on cello, known collectively as the Van Ness String Quartet. Their devotion to their craft is evident, Gabel’s musical knowledge resonating through her vivid descriptions of the compositions they bring to life with each performance. It’s in these sections Gabel’s prose truly soars, not unlike a crescendo building to an ultimate apex. And yet there were plenty of areas that fall flat (pun intended). There were often times I had trouble distinguishing between the main characters, Gabel’s narration messily executed. On the surface I understood each of their roles outside of their musical responsibilities – Jana’s the rigid one; Brit’s the quiet one; Henry’s the genius; Daniel’s the angry one – but each lacked depth. I found my interest waning pretty rapidly during any non-musical sections; simply put I didn’t really care for or about any member of the quartet outside of when they were performing as one.Aja Gabel is an author to watch, however. There were fits of brilliance peppered throughout The Ensemble, enough to keep me engaged until the aforementioned Coda (ironically the most consistently well-written portion the novel had to offer). The novel’s flaws can and will be overcome with both time and subsequent works. Or, to coin a musical term, practice practice practice. I look forward to the… wait for it… encore. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
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  • Danielle Lazarin
    January 1, 1970
    Being in a quartet seems more difficult than being in a marriage. There is so much to hold together, so much work to be done, so many boundaries to delicately cross with people who ask you for everything and yet who you are tired of walking on eggshells with, so much unexpected bodily wear, so much unspoken and necessary love in its mere existence. I adored this book, wanted to return to it night after night, and am desperate for it to be out so I can talk to other people about it. I never grew Being in a quartet seems more difficult than being in a marriage. There is so much to hold together, so much work to be done, so many boundaries to delicately cross with people who ask you for everything and yet who you are tired of walking on eggshells with, so much unexpected bodily wear, so much unspoken and necessary love in its mere existence. I adored this book, wanted to return to it night after night, and am desperate for it to be out so I can talk to other people about it. I never grew bored with the descriptions of music or playing (I never made it past the recorder); those parts felt within reach and I suspect will mean a lot more to anyone who has played. I loved that Gabel was brave enough to give voice to all the characters, which can make a book uneven, but here just helped me understand what it might be like to be part of a larger unit that consumes you whole while still trying to live a life that is yours outside of it. Most of all, being close to the characters in turn reminded me how none of us get what we want, not exactly, that life is full of disappointments at our own hands and just because life is sometimes disappointing, but if you can find some sort of constancy, some people to rely on, even imperfectly, you can work toward something magical and beautiful and even some of the time, perfect.
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  • Allie Rowbottom
    January 1, 1970
    THE ENSEMBLE is a stunning debut, almost unbelievable in its range, lyricism and beauty. This book reminded me of character studies and coming of age novels like FATES AND FURIES and THE MARRIAGE PLOT, with the added complexity of a quartet of characters. Their entwined lives, drives and heartbreaks are set against the backdrop of the insular world of classical music, ultimately resulting in an epic meditation on competition, community, individuality and art, rendered by a writer whose talent is THE ENSEMBLE is a stunning debut, almost unbelievable in its range, lyricism and beauty. This book reminded me of character studies and coming of age novels like FATES AND FURIES and THE MARRIAGE PLOT, with the added complexity of a quartet of characters. Their entwined lives, drives and heartbreaks are set against the backdrop of the insular world of classical music, ultimately resulting in an epic meditation on competition, community, individuality and art, rendered by a writer whose talent is unmistakable.
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  • Joanie
    January 1, 1970
    If this could hook me in as much as the premise of it is hooking me in right now (I will buy a hardcover of this as a birthday present to myself oh my god), hello, new obsession. I never had the discipline or the talent to stick it with classical music beyond high school so I admire so much those who do. This novel could be perfect for me.
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  • Lydia
    January 1, 1970
    Friendship and relationships over decades- it reminds me of Meg Wolitzer's amazing THE INTERSTINGS centered around music vs camp.
  • Carol (Reading Ladies)
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 starsThe Ensemble follows the lives of four young members of a chamber quartet as they navigate the world of competitive classical music, ambition, relationships, success, failure, and love. Readers will meet Jana, first violin, aloof, resilient, and fearless leader; Brit, second violin, beautiful, idealistic, and quiet orphan; Daniel, cello, angry, oldest, and most adrift; and Henry, viola, an easy-going prodigy who has always lived an easy and blessed life. This is a character driven story 3.5 starsThe Ensemble follows the lives of four young members of a chamber quartet as they navigate the world of competitive classical music, ambition, relationships, success, failure, and love. Readers will meet Jana, first violin, aloof, resilient, and fearless leader; Brit, second violin, beautiful, idealistic, and quiet orphan; Daniel, cello, angry, oldest, and most adrift; and Henry, viola, an easy-going prodigy who has always lived an easy and blessed life. This is a character driven story (some unlikable) and includes a multitude of musical references. Although it’s beautifully written and a unique concept, there’s minimal plot. With a focus on relationships, the four musicians, drawn together by art, are bonded for life (reminding me a bit of Mitch Albom’s metaphor in The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto that “we’re all in a band” and throughout our lives we join different bands. The author expertly and carefully explores relationships and friendships, backgrounds of the four musicians, and the profound impact that their families of origin have on their decisions and outlooks. The beauty in the story is in the exploration of the family you choose as they choose each other over and over again.Here’s what worked for me:+beautiful writing+unique concept for a story+insightful observations on relationships and personal and professional growth+their commitment and bond to each other+the idea of chosen family (community)+well drawn charactersWhat I thought could have been better:-The story could have been 100 pages shorter or written as a novella…at about 56% I started to eagerly anticipate reaching the end (even though I enjoyed the writing).-It’s a slow read (for me who loves more action) without much of a plot (focus is on character development and observations and reflections).-a touch melodramatic at timesMy Rating: This is difficult as I wavered between a 3 and 4 (see above bullet points), so I decided on 3.5 Stars (a solid enough read but probably not recommendable to everyone without some explanation).Recommendation: readers who love music and character driven stories that focus on relationships and friendships, this is the book for you!See more reviews on my blog: readingladies.com
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  • Jaclyn Crupi
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 If you’re a classical music loving fiction reader then this is for you. Four young musicians in a string quartet navigate all that life and the cutthroat musical world throws at them in revealing and intimate ways.
  • Marcia
    January 1, 1970
    I never knew classical music could be so exciting.
  • Dana Blazsek
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.4 Stars-- This book, that spans years, moved at the perfect pace. Not too slow and not too fast. I was vested in all four characters fast. Each of them was likeable and unlikable in their own ways. But their likeableness outweighed their negative qualities. And though I liked them, I did not love them, which I think led to me giving four stars instead of five.That being said, the story lin Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.4 Stars-- This book, that spans years, moved at the perfect pace. Not too slow and not too fast. I was vested in all four characters fast. Each of them was likeable and unlikable in their own ways. But their likeableness outweighed their negative qualities. And though I liked them, I did not love them, which I think led to me giving four stars instead of five.That being said, the story line really is not deep, but the lives of the quartet are. Jana, Brit, Henry, and Daniel are in serious relationships, but their number 1 is their quartet. Gabel takes us on a journey about how for musicians in this line of work, every decision and most life choices are made based on what's good for the group-- everyone else is just along for the ride. The sections of text that talk specifics about music went a little over my head because I have no musical talent. I did not feel bogged down, but feeling the emotion of the group as they played.Normally, I do not do book comparisons, but for those who read A Little Life this is being compared to that. I have not read A Little Life and I am only giving the comparison because I have not heard too much about this book out in the world. It goes on sale May 15!
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