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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

The Impossibility Of Neutrality

The Gustav Sonata: A Novel - Rose Tremain

The Gustav Sonata is the story of a friendship between the mild-mannered and self-effacing Gustav Perle and the highly talented but volatile Anton Zweibel. It begins in Switzerland in the nineteen thirties with the courtship and marriage of Gustav's parents, the looming threat of invasion by Nazi Germany, and the dilemma of Anton's father, the deputy police chief of the small town of Matzlinger who is ordered to deport Jewish refugees but cannot bring himself to do so.


Gustav's father's decision will ultimately precipitate the collapse of his marriage, a catastrophe from which Gustav's mother will never truly recover and the blame for which she will unreasonably project onto her son.


Unloved at home, Gustav finds solace with the family of his school friend, Anton, whose comfortable bourgeois life offers so many more possibilities than his mother's constricted world. Ironically, the Zweibels are Jewish and in Gustav's mother's eyes, they are the very people who have caused her so much trouble.


Despite Gustav's mothers hostility, Gustav and Anton remain friends. When they grow up Gustav becomes the owner of a hotel and Anton, a precociously talented pianist as a child, becomes a dis-satisfied music teacher. Then, late in life, an opportunity for Anton to find success as a performer beckons and he leaves Matzlinger in search of fame It is a decision that provokes a crisis in both their lives.


At a micro-level the focus of this novel is on the particular, the tiny details that acquire significance over the course of a life. At a macro-level it is concerned with the choices that confront both individuals and institutions, and the consequences that attend those choices  That's all interesting fictional territory without a doubt, but the plot meanders too much for my money and the narrative seems to lack any real centre. I have enjoyed many of Rose Tremaine's novels but this one did not hit the spot for me. The Gustav Sonata: A Novel - Rose Tremain