The Ensemble is the perfect debut novel - unique and authentic. Author Aja Gabel brings her musical background to the forefront with the Van Ness Quartet - four musicians who meet, form friendships, struggle, and evolve together. Gabel was herself a musician, playing cello from childhood, so she brings experience with her in writing of these musicians, the music itself, and their emotional struggles.
We meet the quartet in conservatory, and each have a role in conveying their story throughout the novel. Jana is first violin and the clear leader of the group; Brit, a pretty self-conscious orphan, is second violin; Daniel, who has the least natural talent, is the hardest working of the group on cello; and Henry on viola is the handsome, happy prodigy. Gabel provides vivid emotional narratives of her characters as they grow up together - through family and personal drama; reliance upon each other; distrust and envy; but always deeply intimate and intertwined.
As the book progresses, her characters mature in different ways, and so does her writing it seems. Her characters’ revelations about themselves and those to whom they are so closely attached become more accurate realizations instead of idealizations, and each member provides an acceptance of other’s successes and flaws alike. They are a cohesive unit that will succeed or fail together, and their futures hinge on the collective mood.
Gabel’s The Ensemble provides us with a different kind of story, and she skillfully succeeds with her first novel. I’m looking forward to seeing more from her.
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Vickie’s rating: 4 stars