“A breathtakingly radiant story of an unlikely childhood friendship that survives the test of time.” Amazon
It’s a perfectly decent book if you don’t mind occasional graphic moments. And they are merely moments. The writing was, frankly, a bit dull. Gustav is the son of the cold, repressed mother and a heroic father who destroys his career falsifying police documents to allow Jews into Switzerland. Gustav, after avoiding intimacy as an adult by throwing himself heart and soul into his hotel business, grows up to find happiness in a loving relationship with another man–the man who has been his best friend since kindergarten. I was happy for them–it seemed to be a kind, loving relationship in which they could both grow old.
Gustav is a man anyone would love–caring and gentle–he even makes time for his late father’s lover and to play Gin Rummy with an old British guy. That kind of good guy. But he keeps his sexual urges subdued thru overwork. Anton is crushed by parental expectations but, he too is likeable, if only because of the burden he carries of trying to conquer his problem of performing on stage as brilliantly as he does in private. Both deserve a happy home life and caring partner. I was glad they found each other again.
In terms of the story, however, I was sorry that Erich’s work on behalf of the Jews was such a minor part of the book and that his extra-marital affair was such a big part of it. How much better to have heard more about his sympathy for the fleeing Jews than about his enjoyment of his mistress.
What I didn’t Like
Keeping in mind the “breathtakingly radiant” comment in the review I read–the review that made me read the book, I have to ask: Did the Amazon blurb writer even READ the book? Why, why, why was an attempted child molestation considered “necessary’ to this story??? How is that “breathtakingly radiant?” I really had a huge moment of cognitive dissonance here thanks to that review. I don’t normally use the words “beautiful” or “radiant” to describe attempting to force sex on a child.
I could put up with masturbation and exuberant man-on-woman oral sex–those or even a still-horny guy sniffing the sheets he’s just made love on to retain his gal’s scent–these, while icky, are at least “ordinary” (and fleeting) and this was the story of “ordinary” people living “ordinary” lives. Ordinary people in ordinary lives have sex in and outside of marriage or, if they don’t, they give themselves pleasure, hopefully, in private. Ordinary. Molestation, even just attempted, is not ordinary.
I really can’t believe anyone thinks sticking a random attempt to molest a child–even a fictional child–helps build interest in the story or the characters. Shock? It no longer “shocks” me to read crap like this. It just makes me roll my eyes at the predictability of a really awful and distressing sex act in so many well reviewed, best selling novel today. For example, this is the second book in a row I’ve read featuring a brief scene of a man admitting he was enjoying inflicting a little pain on a woman during intercourse. While honest, its not exactly a “radiantly beautiful.” emotion–is it? Though, truly, I can’t decide which of the three, masturbation or vivid oral sex or liking inflicting pain, is the new “It” scene (like the It Girl) required for novel to be published right now. As a writer this really troubles me. I don’t want to inflict this sort of thing on my readers, but I do want my books published.
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
A Deeper Review
If you’d prefer a much deeper, more adroit review of this book which focuses on the deep symbolism (which, thank you I did ‘get’), and which explains in terms I do agree with that “Gustav, who seemed middle-aged as a child, is infantilised as a middle-aged man. The life force has gone from him and he has no credible sexual identity,” then read the Guardian’s excellent review here. This review rates 5 stars on its own.