Review: The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

gustavWhat I thought:

I am still trying to collect my thoughts on this book. I don’t actually give star ratings on my blog, as I have often found that after reflecting on a book for a few days (even weeks or months) my view changes (some become books that I have forgotten so easily, and others that I didn’t initially think were utterly fantastic can refuse to let me go and I find myself thinking about them long after the last page was turned). So, now to my point: while reading this book, I could easily have awarded anywhere between 2.5 and 5 stars depending on which point in the book I was at. A quandary indeed.

The Gustav Sonata is set in Switzerland and spans 60 years, starting in the years after WW2. Split into 3 parts (like a sonata) it follows first two young boys, Gustav and Anton (one Christian, one Jewish), and their blossoming friendship, then going back 10 years the book takes on Gustav’s parents relationship and we discover the reasons for Gustav’s mother’s aloofness towards her son, and finally, we are taken a long way forward in time to when the boys are grown up.

Gustav’s story is one of loneliness and longing. A dead father and a distant mother, with whom he spends his life trying to make love him, and his need to please everyone around him, usually for nothing in return, is incredibly sad. I had a profound sense of Gustav’s isolation and yearning for acceptance. I particularly liked the second part, however, which focused on Gustav’s parents and his father’s part in saving Jews, which his mother Emilie blames his death on. This gave me more of an insight into Switzerland’s part (or non-part) in the war, and one I would like to know a lot more about. As a country, it may not have been involved, but its people still lived in fear of being dragged into it and its repercussions have reverberated since.

I’m not sure how I would sum this book up if I’m honest. There were themes of war, friendship, love, mental health, homosexuality, extra-marital affairs, loneliness and hope. It was harrowing but never sentimental.  It was, ultimately I believe, a story of the issues of identity and its consequences.


I loved this book and was moved by it, and yet there were parts that left me strangely cold. The boys, as adults, seemed hardly to have matured at all which is a shame and in terms of character development, I didn’t feel there really was any. Or perhaps that was the point? The blurb talks about the book being about friendship but I found it very one-sided, and never really felt the friendship in maybe the way I was intended to. That said, I would still highly recommend this book: Rose Tremain is a fantastic writer.

Have you read this book? What did you think?



Typically British Challenge

 I have joined a new challenge in support of my fellow country-men and British authors! This is hosted by Book Chick City and here are the rules:

Timeline: 1st Jan 2010~ 31st Dec 2010. Only books started on January 1st count towards this challenge.
1. Anyone can join. You don’t need a blog to participate. 
2. There are four levels:
 • “Put The Kettle On” – Read 2 Typically British novels.
 • “Gordon Bennett” – Read 4 Typically British novels.
 • “Bob’s Your Uncle” – Read 6 Typically British novels.
 • “Cream Crackered” – Read 8 Typically British novels.
3. Any book format counts. Must be fiction not non-fiction.
4. You don’t have to select your books ahead of time, you can just add them as you go. Also if you do list them upfront then you can change them, nothing is set in stone! 
5. The books you choose can crossover into other challenges.
I’m going for the “cream crackered” option. There’s loads of books that I want to read that are by Brisith authors, some to be released this year and some that I have on Mt. TBR at home. Some of my picks at the moment are:

Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris

Trespass by Rose Tremain

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Book Review: The Road Home by Rose Tremain

I just loved, loved, loved this book. It is so beautifully written that I wanted to read it slowly to savour every word. The Road Home is of an Eastern European man, Lev, who goes to London to look for work so he can send back money to his family. It is a truly humbling book that made me see just how much we take things for granted over here – work, acceptance, even dreams don’t seem so far off for us like they do for Lev. I found it a really powerful book and although this is the first of Tremain’s that I have read, it certainly won’t be the last. I highly recommend this book.

Trespass, Tremains new book, is out in the UK in March and I can’t wait to rea it. I will review when I have read it:

Here is a synopsys from Amazon: “In a silent valley stands an isolated stone farmhouse, the Mas Lunel. Its owner is Aramon Lunel, an alcoholic so haunted by his violent past that he’s become incapable of all meaningful action, letting his hunting dogs starve and his land go to ruin. Meanwhile, his sister, Audrun, alone in her modern bungalow within sight of the Mas Lunel, dreams of exacting retribution for the unspoken betrayals that have blighted her life. Into this closed Cevenol world comes Anthony Verey, a wealthy but disillusioned antiques dealer from London. Now in his sixties, Anthony hopes to remake his life in France, and he begins looking at properties in the region. From the moment he arrives at the Mas Lunel, a frightening and unstoppable series of consequences is set in motion. Two worlds and two cultures collide. Ancient boundaries are crossed, taboos are broken, a violent crime is committed. And all the time the Cevennes hills remain, as cruel and seductive as ever, unforgettably captured in this powerful and unsettling novel, which reveals yet another dimension to Rose Tremain’s extraordinary imagination.”