Book of the Week

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain. Photo: PA Photo/Chatto and Windus
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain. Photo: PA Photo/Chatto and Windus

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

Whether she’s writing about life during the Restoration, family dramas in the South of France or the plight of Eastern European immigrants, Rose Tremain is a consummate storyteller.

At the core of her finely crafted tales are seemingly unremarkable characters whose inner lives throw a subtle light on the way human beings think and feel. In The Gustav Sonata, two boys forge a lifelong friendship in post-war Switzerland.

They’re very different. Gustav spends his harsh childhood trying to win the love of his emotionally stunted mother. Talented musician Anton is the much-loved only child of a Jewish family.

The counterpoint to their evolving relationship is the history of Switzerland’s conduct during World War Two. This sounds low-key and it is.

There are few great dramas here, just a moving study of human emotions that’s full of compassion for even its most unappealing characters, and which will make you cry without being even slightly sentimental.