...[a] stunningly resonant debut ... With remarkable assurance, Gabel takes the four through their shaky early performances and expertly ties their individual and collective lives together with generous doses of empathy ... A virtuoso performance.
...phenomenal first novel ... Gabel’s captures the classical music world in all its chaotic cutthroat glory ... 'We found each other,' [the characters] say at the end. And how lucky we readers are, to have found them, too.
...terrifically entertaining debut ... [Gabel] flings herself in this episodic novel into one crisis after another, rarely relaxing the rather harried tempo. But an overabundance of conflict is a promising imperfection, the sign of a writer with an appetite for drama and outsize characters.
Gabel’s musicians are struck like a chord, interpersonal pains and private neurosis filling in the rests between the notes. They surrender themselves to each other and to the music. Her exploration of their pain comes intermittently, with little warning and lasting consequences, like injury itself, but it lingers longer than the tired beats of relationships. What more intimate relationship exists, after all, than the one between owner and body? The Ensemble reveals this relationship to be rich in horror and honor, a harmony of sacrifice, the sheer exhaustion of performing stretched across the staff as a rack, music notes written in blood.
Music structures the novel at multiple levels, lending The Ensemble both a form and language. Divided into four parts, each portion cycles through the voices of two or three characters in a manner akin to musical solos ... The vocabulary of music is also woven into the novel’s diction, but with patchier success. While transposing the language of music into different contexts can offer moments of unexpected beauty, Gabel’s overreliance on the trope can also result in inscrutable images ... This is where the novel truly shines—in its musings on the glue that binds the group. Gabel peppers physical descriptions with moments of telling uncertainty ... Like the best narratives of ambition, The Ensemble offers its readers the chance to breathe the rarefied air of an elite pursuit. But there’s no schadenfreude here—more than just conveying the scandalous thrill of seeing what it takes to make it, Gabel’s sensitive depiction of relationships tempers that thrill with the poignancy of loss and the recognition that success often requires the pruning out of what is most meaningful.
The novel contains numerous passages suffused with music, and while Gabel’s prose takes flight during these performances—alighting upon notes and measures, the tips of bows and fingers and artistic icebergs binding her quartet as much as the music does—they are not the most powerful sections in the book. That honor belongs to Gabel’s nods to the pain art requires; not mental and emotional pain, but bodily and mechanical ... The Ensemble reveals this relationship to be rich in horror and honor, a harmony of sacrifice, the sheer exhaustion of performing stretched across the staff as a rack, music notes written in blood.
Aja Gabel’s debut, The Ensemble, is rich and quiet. It’s the kind of book you will love if you just want to hear about how friendships change microscopically over time, and the kind of book you will find extremely boring if you’re concerned with such niceties as 'plot' and 'things happening' ... Novels this cerebral and literary often take refuge in cheap cynicism, so when it ultimately becomes clear that Brit’s romanticism will win the day, it’s a pleasant surprise. The Ensemble believes deeply in love and in the value of emotion. It’s just that it can only understand emotion through long, analytical passages, preferably rendered through the metaphor of chamber music ... What a sweet and welcome throwback. What a radical love story.
...wonderful debut ... Seldom has a novel managed to better dramatize the particular pressures that make up the life of a professional musician ... Readers will come away with a renewed appreciation for things people usually take for granted when listening to music."
...wonderful debut ... Seldom has a novel managed to better dramatize the particular pressures that make up the life of a professional musician ... Readers will come away with a renewed appreciation for things people usually take for granted when listening to music.
Dan Sheehan has joined the document.
...sometimes it feels as if one is reading the author's notes for the book rather than the book itself ... An accomplished rendering of the competitive world of classical music helps balance the less-elegant handling of the characters’ emotional lives.