The UK has some fantastic living female novelists, and two of them have new novels out. One is Maggie O'Farrell's This Must Be the Place, which I've just started and got immediately hooked by, and the other is The Gustav Sonata by Rose Remain. I was lucky enough to get credits for both of these from Audible, and I'll be writing full length reviews of them for the next edition of Shiny New Books, due out in early August. But I wanted to tell you straight away how much I loved The Gustav Sonata.
The story, set in Switzerland, covers a period of more than sixty years, from 1938 to 2002, but it's not told chronologically. It starts in the 1940s, when Gustav Perle is a small child, being raised by his widowed mother Emilie. He knows his father Erich was a policeman, and Emilie describes him with some bitterness as a hero, but he'll be an adult before he discovers all the details. He adores his mother despite the fact that she is cool and irritable with him, but the real warmth in his life comes from the wealthy, kindhearted Zwiebel family, whose son Anton becomes his best friend at primary school and remains so all their lives.
The second part of the book goes back to the late 1930s, and here we find out the sources of Emilie's unhappiness and the events that lay behind the marriage, Gustav's birth, and what happened to Erich. Then we jump forward to the 1990s, when Gustav has become a successful hotelier and Anton, whose desire to be a famous concert pianist has not been fulfilled, is teaching music at a leading school. Both men now in their fifties, have great difficulties to face now, but in the end they are resolved in a most satisfying and moving conclusion.
I haven't read many reviews of this novel, but the ones I've seen so far all describe it as a profoundly sad book. I actually disagree somewhat. It certainly tells the story of an apparently dull life -- little happens to Gustav on the outside, but its his inner life that interests us and Tremain has created a wonderful character here, a deliberate parallel in his apparent calm and guarded neutrality to the country where he lives. Calm he may be, but he has deep feelings, feelings we are always aware of though never once spelled out. It's all beautifully done and I enjoyed every minute of my many hours of listening. So many thanks yet again to Audible!