The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain

This book is the first of my pre-Christmas gifts I received from my dear friend, that I read. The gift was generally the complete Man Booker Prize shortlist from 2017, with one addition, this one, so you may say I’m starting at the end. My selection was not entirely conscious, I just picked this book from the shelf, but now that I think of why it would be the first one I can come up with two reasons: it is the only paperback in that part of my bookshelf (and as I am reading during my commute it matters depending on the size of the purse I use in that particular week) and the other thing is that I feel intimidated by the size of Paul Auster’s ‘1234’ and by the structure of ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders (the intimidation I solemnly promise to overcome in both cases, just not sure in which order).

There was also a reason why I hesitated to pick up this book, I don’t know how that happened but somehow I was under the impression that the book is about WWII and I’m really not a fan of WWII books, my imagination is way to vivid. This concern however lost with the convenience mentioned above and here we are, I read it and I do not regret it. For this is not a book about WWII, yes, it is true part of the story takes place during that time and characters mention it, but most of the story is based before or after the war and war is not the main topic here, friendship and love is. For those of you who may be surprised I read a romance a word of explanation, it is not a romance. It is story of Gustav and Anton, childhood friends and their friendship continuing throughout their life. It is also a story of Gustav’s mother and father and their relationship. The story is divided into three parts, which may or may not allude to the actual form of a sonata, which apparently is a hot topic in musical circles (in the wiki link you will notice that introduction and coda are optional parts, so my theory still holds).

In the first part we meet Gustav, living with his mother in poverty, after the death of his father and Anton, leading a privileged life with both of his parents. As Gustav takes care of Anton on his first day in the new school the boys become friends, even though their parents don’t particularly like each other. This part is focused on the childhood experience and written to make us relate to the children’s perspective. In the second part we jump back in time and get to know the story of Gustav’s parents, which makes the first part even more dramatic. Third part focuses on the life of adult Gustav, who seems to be hiding from the world managing a hotel in the town in which he lived his entire life, while Anton managed to escape it.

The characters are wonderfully developed and the story flows in its appropriately moderate pace. I personally found the first two parts of the book to be the most dramatic, when we find out why Gustav’s mother behaves the way she does, what situations and decisions have formed her as a human being. It is really tragic. I could not relate that much to the third part, and maybe not the entire third part, because I thoroughly enjoyed its beginning, but when events started gearing towards the ending I found them less engaging or maybe they just resonated less with me. I did enjoy the prose and really liked the first two parts, but because of the ending I cannot say I will be going back to this book. It is not bad, it just didn’t feel like it ended right.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

3 thoughts on “The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain

  1. Pingback: February round-up –

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