The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

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A piece of classical music so lovely and sad it moves you to tears. Except it’s a novel.

Told in three parts (or movements if we want to be musical about this), Rose Tremain gently tells how the lives of two young boys Anton and Gustav intertwine at kindergarten in post-war Switzerland. Anton is a musical prodigy and Gustav is a kind but neglected boy who craves comfort and security.

We also see the lives of Erich and Emilie, Anton’s parents. Young and hopeful, they morph into tired and compromised adults. The sadness of their respective emotional and moral conflicts acts as a foil for Anton’s present day. In some ways their charged and challenging love story becomes the core of the book.

With this book, I think that the devil is in the detail (but in a good way?): Erich is an administrative man who does paper work to save people’s lives rather than a classic war hero. Their betrayals and sadnesses are small and subtle but significant, like a simple melody that stays in your mind.

Read: Before bed to lull you to sleep

2 thoughts on “The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

  1. Good timing as I’d already bought it and it’s sitting on my Kindle as yet unread. Big fan of Rose Tremain. Remaining in the same leitmotif try out “Beethoven for a later age; The journey of a string quartet” by Edward Dusinberre. I’m not particularly musically minded, as you know, but I found it fascinating.

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  2. Love Rose Tremain. This is a bit different to her other stuff I’ve read tho- much more subdued, less flamboyant and dramatic. No worse for it though. Would be interesting to re-read Music and Silence after this.

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