This book first caught my eye when I saw it shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards 2016. It is the first of Tremain’s works I have read and this did not disappoint.
The novel is split into three parts. Without ruining the story: the first is where we meet a young boy, Gustav, starved of love and attention from his mother who is struggling to make ends meet and his friend Anton who is a budding pianist battling with the high expectations given by his somewhat suffocating parents. The second part is where we learn of how Gustav’s parents meet and why his father earned the ‘hero’ status given by his mother. In the last section of the book we see Gustav and Anton as grown adults. One very much dependant on the other in different ways.
The story itself is slow and engaging. The title: The Gustav Sonata is incredibly apt. Tones of music and love run throughout this story which is in effect a deep love story set in confusing times. Tremain deals with some heavy subjects in an effective subtly way. Firstly, the mother – Mutti as known to Gustav or Emilie – is a complex character. She ‘wins’ her love having set her mind to making it happen. A self-mastery. This theme runs through the book. The power of the mind over that of one’s feelings. Secondly, the relationship between Gustav and Anton made me think of the relationship between Jude and Willem from A Little Life. Both very much reliant on the other. Not as destructive however, just as slow burning. Thirdly, Tremain’s ability to write about the deep passion Gustav’s father feels later in his marriage for an another is intense but never overpowering.
The fact that this book is only circa 250 pages is astounding. I felt it could have gone on for longer, some of the above themes delved into more deeply but having finished it I now consider that Remain left it where it needed to be. A very moving piece of literature.
In short, The Gustav Sonata is a compassionate, musical and heart breaking novel of which I loved every word.
Have any of you read it? Did any of you read any of Tremain’s novels?
Recommended for: if you enjoyed A Little Life – you will enjoy this
Favourite quote: “…where does “concern” begin and end? My friends, that is the great question of our times: how far are we to go, in showing concern for our fellow human beings? We strive for indifference. As members of the police we are taught to feel it. But is not indifference a moral crime.”
Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!