I listened to an interview with Rose Tremain recently (you can find it here) in which she described wanting The Gustav Sonata to appear like a Swiss watch: something simple and beautiful on the outside, with a lot of very complex intricacies going on in the inside. Really, that’s exactly what this novel was. It took me by surprise in the best way possible, and it’s a novel I’ll be recommending to lots of people for the rest of the year.
This book follows Gustav Perle, a young boy growing up in post-WW2 Switzerland. When a new student named Anton Zwiebel joins his school, Gustav takes him under his wing and forges a close, lifelong friendship with him. As Gustav grows up with an absent father and a cold, distant mother, his friendship with Gustav remains the only constant in his life. In the middle of the book, we go back in time and learn more about his parents’ lives and how they came to be in the shape they are now. I wasn’t expecting this shift in timeline but it’s something I absolutely loved and gave the novel a lot more depth.
Even though this book is receiving so much hype and award recognition recently, it still defied my expectations. I’ll admit that before starting this novel, I assumed it would be a novel revolving around the Holocaust. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with those novels, I can’t help feeling they’ve been overdone. Rose Tremain managed to take this moment in history and make it completely unique.
I’d say it’s best to go into this novel without knowing too much other than the two main characters. There’s a host of other characters which make this novel, but part of their charm is discovering how they all come into Gustav and Anton’s life. They are characters which have stuck with me long after I turned the final page. Luckily for me, Rose Tremain seems to have a lengthy backlist of novels which I’m eager to explore. I’ll be following up with The Road Home in the next few months.
If you’ve read The Gustav Sonata, do let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Buy the book here.