The Ensemble

Thank you to the lovely people at Riverhead Books for my copy of The Ensemble by Aja Gabel.  All thoughts and images are my own.


Title: The Ensemble
Author: Aja Gabel
Genre: Literary fiction
Pub date: May 15, 2018
Read if you like: The Gunners, Bel Canto, Mozart in the Jungle.


The Ensemble is one of my favorite books I have ever read. However, like Fates and Furies, I don’t recommend it for every reader.  I truly recognize that there are books out there for everyone, and this is my book.  I’m hesitant to recommend it, because I am worried about it falling into the hands of readers who won’t love it like I do.  It feels like a book written for me.  If you need plot-driven, page-turning speed, please ignore this book.  Hit me up if you want a recommendation that fits that description (have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo or The Book of Essie?)  

I personally could not put The Ensemble down, but it wasn’t because of the intensity of the plot.  Instead, it was because I was so completely wrapped up in the way the story was being told and in how much I had come to care for Henry, Brit, Daniel, and Jana. 

Gabel expertly weaves together the lives of these four people whose paths are inextricably linked by their participation in the Van Ness Quartet.  It’s possible that in a different universe, their lives may never have led to one another, but in this universe, they could not exist without each other.  As a result, they are entangled in each other’s life events – in the death of parents, the birth of children, marriages made both for the right and the wrong reasons.  Both celebration and grief, frustration and excitement, are shared by all four members of the group, whether it be personal or professional.

What sets this book apart from my favorite sub-genre (stories groups of friends that change over time) is the artful way Gabel makes you feel the music they are producing through her words.  There are four parts, each part heavily influenced by three pieces of classical music. While I do appreciate classical music, it’s never what I choose to listen to. This book made me choose classical music.  There is such artistry in the performance of it and Gabel elucidates how much the personal background of a musician can affect the flavor of the piece – while the average listener may not pick up on a note played a millisecond too soon or too late, they will notice the way the overall piece feels off.  Gabel’s writing is not alienating in its knowledge of music, but her expertise is palpable.

I will return to this book again and again.  For me, it’s a perfect story. And if you like stories that meander through time, visiting characters you’ve come to love at various points in their life, stories of artistry and perfectionism, I really encourage you to pick up The Ensemble.

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Jana. Brit. Daniel. Henry.

They would never have been friends if they hadn’t needed one another.  They would never have found one another except for the art that drew them together.  They would never have become family without their love for the music, for one another.

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, an angry skeptic who sleeps around: and on first violin in 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 one another over and over again.

Following these four unforgettable characters, Aja Gabel’s debut novel gives a riveting look into the high-stakes, cutthroat world of musicians, and of lives made in concert.  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.

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