Prior to The Gustav Sonata I had never read any novels by Rose Tremain. I had hear Simon over at Savidgereads wax poetically about her for some time, but had never picked up any of her books. When this book made it onto the Bailey's and Walter Scott Prize long lists (it is also on the short list for the second prize) I thought it would be a good time to take Simon's advice and finally pick one of her books.
This novel is the story of two boys that meet in childhood and their friendship as it develops through the years. Gustav and Anton are two very different people. Gustav is raised by his mother, after his father dies suddenly when he is very young, in a very poor neighborhood and living situation. Anton is Jewish, newly moved the the area, and comes from an affluent family. However, it is Gustav that saves Anton when he arrives at school as an outsider. The book is broken into three sections, and in the first it is the young childhood friendship that Ms. Tremain details for us. Anton wants to be a famous pianist , but suffers from awful stage fright. Gustav just wants to by part of Anton's world so he supports his friend through it all. This section is packed full of subtle facts about the time, just after the war, the feelings that Gustav's mom has for the Jewish family of her son's friend, and also the socio-economical issues that people were facing at the time.
Gustav bigger obstacle in his life is his mother. At times she does not seem to care for her son very much or even seem to want him to be part of her life. In the middle section we get the back story of Gustav's parents. We learn of how they met, fell in love and then the different tragedies that they suffer. I don't want to give away too much here - but I will say that this was my favorite section of the novel. I think that the character of Gustav's mother is so complicated and well thought out that at the end of this section I really did let loose a big sigh. I was left feeling such pity for her, and the way life had treated her. I never completely forgave her, but I understood her much better.
The third section is all about the men as adults in their 50's. Gustav owns a hotel, and has been successful but alone for most of his life. Anton again flirts with the fame that he has so desired, and it is again Gustav that is there to support him. This section is full of twists and turns, and I don't want to give away a single thing. Though I did see the big twist coming - Rose Tremain kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.
Ms. Tremain is an economical writer that makes smart choices with every word she places on the page. She paints such a vivid picture that you really can feel the cold, hear the music, or enjoy the food that is being eaten by her characters. She has a way of making you ache for her creations. The end of the novel has some of the most beautiful descriptions of nature and the mountains that I have ever read - I was ready to run away to a mountain cabin of my own (really I wasn't, I hate the mountains - but you know what I mean). Overall I thought this was one amazing book. I have already bought other books on her backlist, and I plan to become a full fledged fan! If you have not read her - I highly recommend this book as a place to start.
Rating : 4 books