Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

What is the difference between friendship and love? Or between neutrality and commitment? Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in 'neutral' Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem a distant echo. But  Gustav's father has mysteriously died and his adored mother, Emilie, is strangely cold and indifferent to him. Gustav's childhood is spent in lonely isolation, his only toy a tin train with painted passengers staring blankly from the carriage windows.

As time goes on, an intense friendship with a boy of his own age, Anton Zwiebel, begins to define Gustav's life. Jewish and mercurial, a talented pianist tortured by nerves when he has to play in public, Anton fails to understand how deeply and irrevocably his life and Gustav's are entwined.

Despite the melancholic tone that this book has it was a very enjoyable read. It moves along at a very sedate pace and is much enhanced for it.

The sense of Gustav's loneliness, from boyhood to man, is apparent on every page and I was completely engaged with his character throughout. In many ways the story is about Gustav learning to accept himself for who he really is and it takes him a lifetime to do it.

However, there is also a strong undercurrent throughout about how the past influences our present and our future and is never entirely left behind. The character of Emilie is completely defined by her past and we see the impact that that has on Gustav throughout his whole life.

And like the characters in this book, I do not think that I will ever leave my reading of this book completely behind. It has a haunting quality that gets right under the skin of a reader and provides much food for thought. I highly recommend this book and I am not in the least surprised that it has been nominated for so many awards.

ISBN:  978 1784700201

Publisher: Vintage

About the Author:

Rose Tremain's bestselling novels have been published in thirty countries and have won many awards, including the Orange Prize (The Road Home), the Whitbread Novel of the Year (Music and Silence) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (Sacred Country); Restoration was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Rose Tremain was made a CBE in 2007 and was appointed Chancellor of the University of East Anglia in 2013. She lives in Norfolk and London with the biographer, Richard Holmes.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Us by David Nicholls

Douglas and Connie, scientist and artist and for more than twenty years, husband and wife until suddenly, their marriage seems to be over.

But Douglas is going to win back the love of his wife and the respect of Albie, their teenage son, by organising the holiday of a lifetime.

He has booked the hotels, bought the train tickets, planned and printed the itinerary for a 'ground tour' of the great art galleries of Europe.

What could possibly go wrong?

The narrator of this book is Douglas and with whom I connected with from the very beginning. The whole book is narrated by him and therefore, we see only his perception of events but I honestly felt like Douglas was a friend by the time I finished the book as he is a wonderfully imperfect character as so many of us are in real life. The author did a fantastic job of creating a character who I laughed and cried with along the way. 

The other characters are equally well drawn although we only see them through Douglas's eyes but they equally stirred a reaction in me.

The story moves between past and present to enable the reader to understand the backstory of the relationship between the past and present relationship of Douglas and Connie. These transitions are seamless and add much to the story.

I loved the dry humour  and social observations that run throughout this book and which made it very readable. It is not a work of literature and was never intended to be but a great book to sit back and read and relax with. 

I have read and enjoyed most of David Nicholls books and this one did not disappoint in any way. Well worth reading and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014.

ISBN:  978 0340897010

Publisher: Hodder

About the Author:

David Nicholls is a British author, screenwriter, and actor. A student of Toynbee Comprehensive school and Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, he Graduated from the University of Bristol having studied English Literature and Drama.

After graduation, he won a scholarship to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, before returning to London in 1991 and finally earning an Equity card. He worked sporadically as an actor for the next eight years, eventually earning a three year stint at the Royal National Theatre, followed by a job at BBC Radio Drama as a script reader/researcher. This led to script-editing jobs at London Weekend Television and Tiger Aspect Productions.

During this period, he began to write, developing an adaptation of Sam Shepard’s stage-play Simpatico with the director Matthew Warchus, an old friend from University. He also wrote his first original script, a situation comedy about frustrated waiters, Waiting, which was later optioned by the BBC.

Simpatico was turned into a feature film in 1999, and this allowed David to start writing full-time. He has been twice nominated for BAFTA awards and his first novel, Starter for Ten was featured on the first Richard and Judy Book Club.