Rose Remain is one of my favourite, most trusted writers. This book is shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Awards.

rose-tremainOver many years and many books, I have learned to trust Rose Tremain – even (and especially) when I have no idea where she is going.

In this, Tremain uses the musical structure of the sonata that gives the book its title.

Part 1 (exposition): it is 1947 and Gustav, at age five, loves his mother Emilie, though it’s not clear she likes anyone.

She teaches him to “master” himself, just as his native Switzerland does. His father is dead, somehow as a result of helping Jews in the build-up to WWII.

Gustav finds a friend, the awkward young musician Anton, and they form a lasting bond.

Part 2 (development): It is 1937 and Emilie meets Erich, local assistant police chief, at a festival.

Their marriage, Erich’s work and a terrible tragedy generate the forces that will shape Gustav’s life.

Part 3 (recapitulation): Into the 1990s and Gustav has a small hotel, which he makes into a calm, warm haven.

His friendship with Anton goes through a major upheaval that challenges all aspects of his life.

The book ends in 2002, with a chapter titled allegro vivace. I’d call it the sonata’s coda: a delightful, quick wrap that gives shape to the whole story.

It’s a love story, in part, but as always with Tremain it’s about the vividness of her characters and the strength of her storytelling.

This book was published in May 2016. My review was published in the Herald Sun’s Weekend magazine.