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The Ensemble

A Novel
By: Aja Gabel
Narrated by: Rebecca Lowman
Length: 11 hrs and 37 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4.5 out of 5 stars (4 ratings)

Non-member price: $39.01

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Publisher's Summary

A sweeping debut novel about four young musicians - a story of art, ambition, and love.

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 takes the spotlight and picks up the melody, from the group's youthful rocky start through to middle age, through both devastating failures and wild success. As they navigate heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty, they are always tied together - by career, by necessity, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry together, and by choosing each other over and over again.

The Ensemble is a heart-skipping portrait of artistic ambition, friendship, and the tenderness of youth. With heart, clarity, and poignant understanding, Aja Gabel examines the relationships between trust, love, and the magical, messy world of making music.

©2018 Aja Gabel (P)2018 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"In Ms. Gabel’s terrifically entertaining debut, the frictions of long-term friendships are woven into the “webbed, collaborative endeavor” of the quartet. Their music doesn’t transcend the mess of living; it testifies to it." (The Wall Street Journal)

 "Pitch-perfect." (People)

"Reminded me of Zadie Smith's Swing Time... The language that Gabel uses to describe both the pressures of prestige chamber orchestras and, simply, what it is to be a human in the world, is a work of art in and of itself. I found myself highlighting dozens of passages, marveling at just how impossibly relatable these people are... [I]t's the perfect form of escapism for me." (Entertainment Weekly

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Profile Image for Jarrett
  • Jarrett
  • 19-04-2020

Took forever to get through

Finally finished The Ensemble. I started reading this book over a year ago for a book club I joined. The author’s talent is clear, but there is so much internal dialogue that it’s a bit maddening. It’s not a Jonathan Franzen internal dialogue, it’s different and great in some spaces, but it was dizzying. The ending was great, but it took a lot of time and effort to get to that point.

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  • N. Burmaster
  • 25-09-2019

uninteresting and repetitive

couldn't finish it, maybe it was the delivery but I was completely turned off by all the characters and the description of their lives. I felt like the same sentiments, literally some of the same sentences just kept being used over and over. I just stopped and returned it after 4 chapters.

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  • Anna Ruth Worten-Fritz
  • 15-07-2019

Listen only if you’re a musician.

The story and characters were too depressing to enjoy. The writing was good but I couldn’t identify with any of the characters. The author seemed as if they learned the new vocabulary word “penultimate”. It was used twice relatively closely together. Gavel could have used “second to last” the second time, or alternatively could have used ante penultimate meaning third to last if trying to showcase the vocabulary. I doubt it was to clarify the specific part of the song to the reader unless Gabel only wants to be appreciated by fellow musicians. It was an act of labor for me to complete this book. I would have abandoned it if I was not so dedicated to my book club.

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  • R. Litchfield
  • 23-05-2019

Musicians will relate

This book gives a glimpse into the interpersonal relationships between members of a string quartet. Musicians of all sorts will relate to the dynamics of performers. Others who are curious about musicians may find this book interesting. The reader is excellent overall.

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  • Helene Grotans
  • 16-07-2018

A wonderful journey for musicians

As a violinist, living in San Francisco, I fell right instep with this novel. The author guides you through the life, woes and successes of the Van Ness String Quartet with expert knowledge of string technique and the real world of musicians. Good drama and romance- I enjoyed it!

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  • Darcy
  • 28-05-2018

Score!!!

Intelligent, funny and evocative. Beautiful language telling the tale. Luxurious exploration into character' pysches. Great production and narrator. Enjoy!

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  • tammie bitters murri
  • 30-05-2018

A great glimpse into the world of classical musicians

I enjoyed the storyline, the characters and the intricate way each of them develops throughout the book, in a similar way that a work of classical music does. Having played violin most of my life, I loved the details about the various classical works described, as well as the challenges and triumphs of performing in general. It is well written - rich prosaic detail. I wish I had read the actual book instead of listening. I’m not a fan of this particular narrator, and I think I will try to avoid her audible books in the future. It might be just me because she has narrated many previous books and has received good reviews. This is the second book I’ve listened to that she has narrated, and I had the same reaction both times.

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  • Tamed
  • 19-12-2018

Boring

I kept waiting for this story or the characters to become interesting. Never happened. It is written in the third person so it’s like looking through a window and watching boring people live tedious lives in minute detail. Glad it’s over.

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  • Kathryn Johnson
  • 14-09-2018

Beautiful Use Of Language

The tone and use of language in The Ensemble was more beautiful and interesting than the story line. Listening to the words was like listening to a quartet.

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  • Shelly Dee
  • 27-06-2018

Classically Slow

Even though I'm not a classical music fan I figured a musical group is a musical group is a .... I think, though, one really needs to be into this scene to truly get the storyline of THE ENSEMBLE. Difficult to follow for me. If I have to work at remembering the characters and their individual plots, it's not worth my time. It's a bit more difficult with the audio version to follow along, but this book put me to sleep. 6/27/18