The Gustav Sonata

by Rose Tremain

Gustav Perle is a young boy living alone with his mother in Switzerland shortly after the second world war. his father died in mysterious circumstances and his mother is cold and distant.

When Gustav befriends a boy at school, life seems to open up for him. Anton has warm, loving, generous parents who take both boys skating, and Gustav supports and wonders at Anton's talent as a pianist.

In the second section of the book we move back to the lives of Gustav's parents - how they met, their early married life, how things fell apart and ultimately how Perle died.

Back to the near present day, Gustav is now running a hotel using money left to him by his mother. Anton is a successful pianist though wracked by nerves when performing. He has moved away from Gustav physically and emotionally, but they gradually come to realise the depth of their friendship and the solace and strength this might afford.

It's a fascinating, brilliant book which I had to read quite quickly in order to interview the author. I finished it in awe of her talent, and immediately wanting to pick it up again. This would be an excellent title for a book group because there is so much to explore. It was so atmospheric, the characters were so intriguing and there was so much left unsaid. Did I really believe in their motivation and actions? Would Gustav really have been pleased that his father had had an affair? What is meant by neutrality? Do we get second chances? How does that affect us when we do and when we don't? 

Review date: May 2016
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain