To make up for the dearth of blog posts this year, I’m returning to my twelve days of Christmas book recommendations: a daily blog throughout the rest of December in which I share with you the twelve best books I read during 2017, counting down to the best of them all on Christmas Eve.
As always, these aren’t all books published this year but they are all books that I would heartily recommend you go out and buy or borrow. (That was a sneaky prompt to use your local library.)
Let’s see what my fifth favourite book was in 2017…
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
I think this is the book that most surprised me this year; I’ve always imagined Rose Tremain to be a stuffy, old-fashioned writer of clichéd romantic fiction. What that was based on, I don’t know. But I was given a copy of The Gustav Sonata for Christmas last year and gave it a go and it was quite wonderful.
Spanning eighty years, from the 1930s to the present day, the novel tells the story of Gustav, a young boy living in Switzerland in the aftermath of Second World War. His late father, we learn through chapters looking back to the war, lost his respected role as a senior police officer by helping Jewish refugees enter the country and Gustav’s mother has never forgiven him for ruining the family’s status, even after his death.
When Gustav invites home Anton, a wealthy Jewish boy new to his school, his mother’s resentment threatens their burgeoning friendship. But it endures throughout school, through their adolescence and a holiday with Anton’s parents to Davos, where their relationship shifts slightly and unexpectedly. It is only when Anton becomes a celebrated concert pianist – pressed into the career by his parents, despite his crippling stage fright – that Gustav feels himself pushed out of his best friend’s life and they grow apart.
The Gustav Sonata is a graceful and dignified book, one that shows its full heart without being sentimental or overblown. I found it profoundly moving, not simply because it is sad, although some parts are, and not least its ending, which I won’t spoil but which felt just right. Not only was this novel the one that most surprised me but it is probably the one I’ve recommended most this year.