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.

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