I have never read a book by the multi-award winning Rose Tremain and yet she has written many very successful novels. I have no idea where I have been to have missed her books however I think I hit the jackpot with this, The Gustav Sonata, her latest novel.
It is a story about a young boy, Gustav Perle, who grew up in ‘neutral’ Switzerland during the Second World War. His childhood was one of poverty and lacked parental love as his loving father died when he was young and his mother seemed incapable of showing her young son any love or affection. He makes a friend at school, Anton, who comes from a happy and well-off Jewish family. Together they grow and it is this story of their friendship, inexplicably entwined, which also tells the story of living in the middle of war-torn Europe whilst maintaining a neutrality.
Rose Tremain manages to jump in time without confusion as the story runs from 1937 – 2000. She writes eloquently inviting the reader to imagine this childhood of Gustav’s that is simplicity in possessions but full of richness in experience. The author’s description of his life, from doing his homework on the fold down shelf table, to his mother’s cooking – I could virtually taste the Walnut and Caramel Nusstorte. From Gustav’s one toy, a painted tin train, to Anton’s favoured grand piano which is an intricate part of the book as Anton grows into a talented pianist but with one flaw. Gustav is a patient, kind and understanding boy who bears no envy towards his friend and their friendship grows throughout their lives and as one reads you are compelled into wishing for some reward for Gustav.
Whilst the story remains simple it is not lacking in emotions and delves deeply into the experiences of those war-torn years. There is much to discover in this book and I admire the way Rose Tremain writes with such compassion and understanding I can hardly believe that it is not from personal experience.
** The Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller **
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I have definitely been deprived in my reading having never read one of Rose Tremain’s books before this one so I will now go back and read one or two of her previous books with eager anticipation. I would love to hear from anyone who is a fan of her books to give me some advice as to which I should read next.