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The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

The Gustav Sonata

Literary Fiction   Family Drama   Historical Fiction   The Walter Scott Prize 2017   eBook Favourites   
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Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2017.

Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2016.

Profoundly moving tale of love and devotion, told in a steady, lucid style that reverberates with the latent undercurrent of suppressed, unfulfilled longings.

Switzerland, 1947, and five-year-old Gustav lives a lonely existence until he befriends Anton Zwiebel, a teary Jewish boy who joins his kindergarten. Gustav feels quite sorry for Anton, whose surname his means “onion”, and whose prodigious talent as a pianist is hampered by an incapacitating fear of public performance.

Gustav's defining first visit to the wealthy Zwiebel household is evoked with crystalline intensity. It’s a new world of music, and ice-skating and trips away that couldn’t be more different from the austerity of his own home life. Anton’s mother is spirited, while Gustav’s beloved Mutti is curt and distant, and has brought him up to “master himself”, to be "like Switzerland" (his father, a former Assistant Police Chief, died before Gustav was old enough to remember him). The boys cement their bond during a two-week holiday, when they play doctor and nurse in an abandoned sanatorium, deciding which of their imaginary patients live or die, and enacting the kiss of life.

When we meet Gustav in middle age, he's still playing at mastering himself, and overlooked by bitter Anton, while his own heart remains steadfast and true, though it’s still restrained and guarded. Meanwhile, the story of Gustav’s parents set some ten years earlier is hauntingly illuminating; there’s the misfortune that struck their first year of marriage, then the tragedy of how his father's efforts to save Jewish lives led to his own downfall. The perfect conclusion comes not as a crashing crescendo, but as a heartfelt swelling, as satisfying as releasing a gasp after a long-held breath. Truly, this poignant novel casts a long-lingering spell. ~ Joanne Owen

The Walter Scott Prize Judges said:
‘Set at first in Switzerland as the Second World War swirls around its borders, this novel is simply magnificent, by turns cold and bleak, life-affirming and always very beautifully written. The images in The Gustav Sonata filled my eye, its story captured my heart and it made me marvel at Rose Tremain's remarkable skills.’

If you like Rose Tremain you might also like to read books by Margaret Forster, Alice Munro and Joanne Harris.


The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

This is the Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller. It was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award. What is the difference between friendship and love? Gustav grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem a distant echo. But Gustav's father has mysteriously died, and his adored mother Emilie is strangely cold and indifferent to him. Gustav's life is a lonely one until he meets Anton. An intense lifelong friendship develops but Anton fails to understand how deeply and irrevocably his life and Gustav's are entwined until it is almost too late....


'This is a perfect novel about life's imperfection... Tremain is writing at the height of her inimitable powers... Remarkable and moving novel.' -- Kate Kellaway Observer

'The Gustav Sonata is a magnificent novel, heartbreaking, unsentimental and beautifully written, and it reinforces my opinion that there are few writers out there with the dexterity or emotional intelligence to rival that of the great Rose Tremain.' -- John Boyne The Irish Times

'Beautifully tender and brilliantly written novel... A tale of the most powerful part of any friendship: love.' ***** Stylist

'In The Gustav Sonata, Tremain once again proves herself to be a writer of exceptional talent ... Previous novels like The Road Home have already showcased her staggering sensitivity and capacity for empathy but they're here again, magnificently undiminished. Tremain is a writer who understands every emotion ... and it's ultimately this understanding that has produced another exquisite book' -- Matt Cain i

'Tremain has the painterly genius of an Old Master, and she uses it to stunning effect... Glorious.' -- Melissa Katsoulis The Times

About the Author

Rose Tremain

Rose Tremain's bestselling novels have won many awards, including the Orange Prize (The Road Home), the Whitbread Novel of the Year (Music & Silence), the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Prix Femina Etranger (Sacred Country). Restoration was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1989 and made into a film in 1995. The sequel, Merivel, was published to rapturous acclaim in 2012, and the Telegraph described the character of Robert Merivel as 'one of the great imaginative creations in English literature of the past fifty years'. Rose Tremain was made a CBE in 2007 and was appointed Chancellor of the University of East Anglia in 2013. She lives in Norfolk and London with the biographer, Richard Holmes.

Author photo © David Kirkham

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Book Info

Publication date

26th January 2017


Rose Tremain

More books by Rose Tremain
Author 'Like for Like'

Author's Website


Vintage an imprint of Vintage Publishing


320 pages


Literary Fiction
Family Drama
Historical Fiction
The Walter Scott Prize 2017
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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