I admit now, before going any further, I am a fan of whatever Rose Tremain writes. She is a marvel, walking the fine line between consummate story teller, and restrained, elegant, divine writing. Nothing is revealed too soon, but just enough from the beginning to set the tone, begin a story, beguile the reader with intriguing characters and behaviours. She writes with affection, not just of her story line, but her characters, the moral and ethical dilemmas they find themselves in, she creates real human beings, throwing life's troubles in front of them. I just love her work.

This latest novel is no different. Another reviewer made the wonderful observation that the book is composed in three parts, much like a musical sonata. And music features heavily in this novel. The first part begins in 1947, introducing Gustav, a five year old boy living in near poverty with his unhappy, unpleasant, non-maternal and morose mother Emilie in a small town in Switzerland. We have little knowledge of Emilie's circumstances and why there is no Dad on the scene. Gustav starts school, and meets Anton, a new comer to the area, shy, bit different from the other boys. Gustav and Anton develop a most unlikely friendship, Gustav being introduced and taken under the wing of Anton's wealthy parents. Anton is a very talented pianist, Gustav developing a great love of listening to Anton practise.

Anton's family is Jewish, upsetting Emilie who is anti-Semite, the significance and reason for becoming apparent in the second part of the book. This second part tells the story of the years before Gustav's birth, really Emilie's story, explaining quite sadly and poignantly why she is the mother she is to Gustav. Just another horribly sad war story really.

In the third part, Gustav and Anton are middle aged, Emilie is still alive but very elderly. The friendship between the two men has wavered over the years, depending on their life circumstances. Have they had good lives? It is hard to say. I suspect not, there is a lot of sadness in each of the two men. As they age however, they are brought together again, and the last few pages are just wonderful in what happens, and how beautifully it is written. 

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