Book Reviews

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

The trouble with trying to write reviews is that I want to revert to being a child and tell you the whole story – “There was this boy called Gustav, who had a friend called Anton, and a really mean mother … “ , but I realise that spoiler alerts would be required and you could read the back cover to get a better outline of the story.

So when I started this review on The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain, after several attempts discovering that I had told most of the story, I thought I would read a review written by a critic to see what they have to say about this book. Luckily I did, as I have now discovered that :

The author “knows when and how to let us read between the lines … ”

“The narrative skill and subtlety are exemplary. Tremain does not judge – so we, inevitably, do”

“The “sonata” title is apt, too, in that, like the great classical composers, Tremain shows happiness and sorrow can collide – there are moments when the two are interchangeable.” (refer to this review by The Guardian).

So there you go. Which is also why I won’t be giving up my day job to write reviews!

But regardless of what the reviewer says – I did love this book, even without it’s literary prowess, and I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The protagonist, Gustav, is the only son of a rather cold and unloving mother, and was born in Switzerland during the WWII (an interesting setting to be in a neutral country during a time of war). His father died when he was young, but not before we find out what sort of man he was, and how he affected the lives of others long after he was gone.

His mother brings Gustav up in this small and drab town.  She tries not to encourage the relationship between Gustav and his new rich Jewish friend Anton, maybe because she blames the Jews for the demise of her husband, but also maybe because she recognises that they have everything that she could have had if her husband had not lost his position trying to save them.  But Gustav and Anton become firm friends and it is their relationship which rules Gustav’s life as they grow older.  The book looks at all these relationships between sons and mothers, husbands and wives, men and their lovers, amongst others and I can see the happiness and sorrow, the jealousy and the love.

Find The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain in the SMSA Library Catalogue.


Kathy Sale
SMSA Library Co-ordinator

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

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