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The heartbreaking new novel from the bestselling author of The Road Home: a story of betrayal, the struggle for happiness and the healing power of friendship

'It was a game of love and death. Neither of us will ever speak about it. It's locked inside us.'

Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem distant. He adores his mother but she treats him with bitter severity, disapproving especially of his intense friendship with Anton, the Jewish boy at school. A gifted pianist, Anton is tortured by stage fright; only in secret games with Gustav does his imagination thrive. But Gustav is taught that he must develop a hard shell, ‘like a coconut’, to protect the softness inside – just like the hard shell perfected by his country, to protect its neutrality.

But despite this hard shell, nothing in Gustav’s life can be called neutral. Older, and increasingly curious about his absent father, Gustav discovers the traces of an erotic love affair – traces which still glow white-hot even now.

Fierce, astringent, profoundly tender – and spanning the twentieth century – Rose Tremain’s beautifully orchestrated novel explores the big themes of betrayal and the struggle for happiness, and above all, the passionate love of a childhood friendship as it is tested over a lifetime.


This is a perfect novel about life's imperfection... Tremain is writing at the height of her inimitable powers... Remarkable and moving novel.

Kate Kellaway, Observer

The Gustav Sonata is a magnificent novel, heartbreaking, unsentimental and beautifully written, and it reinforces my opinion that there are few writers out there with the dexterity or emotional intelligence to rival that of the great Rose Tremain.

John Boyne, The Irish Times

Beautifully tender and brilliantly written novel... A tale of the most powerful part of any friendship: love. *****


In The Gustav Sonata, Tremain once again proves herself to be a writer of exceptional talent ... Previous novels like The Road Home have already showcased her staggering sensitivity and capacity for empathy but they're here again, magnificently undiminished. Tremain is a writer who understands every emotion ... and it's ultimately this understanding that has produced another exquisite book

Matt Cain

Tremain has the painterly genius of an Old Master, and she uses it to stunning effect... Glorious.

Melissa Katsoulis, The Times

Elegant and spare, the novel traces the subtle nuances between friendship and passion, betrayal and disappointment… Tremain shows how good intentions can result in suffering, and does so with grace and tenderness.

Fanny Blake, Daily Mail

Sentence by sentence, Rose Tremain’s fiction provides rich pleasures: she renders her worlds…with vivid specificity and economical elegance. In her new novel The Gustav Sonata, the textures of her characters’ surroundings are deftly drawn.

Claire Messud, Financial Times

Reveals Tremain at her very best. It is a powerful account of loss, but also of friendship, of its inequalities and its compromises.

Vanessa Berridge, Sunday Express

Tender, beautiful and finely characterized, this is the best book of the year so far for me

WI Life

Tremain is a resourceful writer... The Gustav Sonata is a short book that manages to tell a gripping story about human fallibility while offering a meditation on life, time and desire.

Pamela Norris, Literary Review

Does not disappoint in any way… Effortlessly constructed, deeply moving story… Written with exquisite simplicity and feeling, The Gustav Sonata is about discovering the freedom which loving bestows

Woman & Home

Spare, deeply imagined and full of small gestures that draw the reader in towards deeper mysteries… Tremain is a writer of exemplary vision and particularity.

Marcel Theroux, Guardian

Jewel of a novel... Tremain at her best

S Magazine, Sunday Express

Haunting tale of friendship, betrayal and sadness… What Tremain omits, or merely hints at, is as vital as every word. This is a novel full of melancholy, but so is Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which is beautifully threaded through the story. We listen to its beauty as it transcends its tragedy. And, for much the same reasons, we read Tremain’s exquisite prose.

Anne Cunnigham, Irish Independent

*****…This is also a book about friendship and longing, unsentimentally told and bleakly precise… Tremain draws a conclusion that is simultaneously straightforward and sweetly transformative. Like so much else in this compassionate and musical novel, it hits a perfect note

Tim Martin, Telegraph

The Gustav Sonata is beautifully rendered, and magnificent in its scope. It glows with mastery

Ian McEwan

The Gustav Sonata is a work of extreme and painful beauty, the story of one profound love amid many failed relationships, and of the conflict between passion and self-control. Rose Tremain is one of the very finest British novelists

Salman Rushdie

Fierce, elegant ... superb

Mail on Sunday

Gustav is beautifully drawn, as is Anton… Tremain’s handling of their relationship and struggle for happiness is superb.

Eithne Farry, Mail on Sunday


Charlotte Heathcote, Daily Express

I love Rose Tremain’s writing and a new novel is always something to savour

The Bookseller


Good Housekeeping

Powerful... Fine sentences contain big, surprising thoughts.

The Sunday Times

A clever book. Its structure mirrors its theme… And the plotting is a play on neutrality, reusing twists or revelations. Emotional power lies instead in harnessed passions.

Lucy Atkins, Sunday Times

Heartbreaking…Her capacity for empathy is staggering. The result is another exquisite, beautifully orchestrated book.

Winq Magazine

A confident and restrained depiction of friendship… A memorable novel.

Daily Express

A moving study of human emotions which will make you cry without being even slightly sentimental.

Jackie Kingsley, UK Press Syndication

Beautifully written, this is a book to savour.

Choice Magazine

Tender yet sharp, this beautifully composed narrative explores the themes of unrequited love… Tremain has crafted a stunning and wise book that sustains its brilliance right to the end.


Captivating novel… Illuminated throughout by Tremain’s own empathy, this beautiful book holds the reader effortlessly in its thrall.

Stephanie Cross, Lady

What I love about Rose Tremain is her dark elegance.

Kerry Fowler, Sainsbury's Magazine

The awfulness of childhood has rarely been so beautifully caught… A deep compassion for the suffering of her characters…makes this novel a beautiful and moving work of art.

Jonathan Steinberg, Spectator

Tender new novel… Tremain details the physical toll of heartbreak and this is laced with sadness as happiness eludes. But we feel for Gustav, we want him to break free, to attain it. Crucially, through Tremain’s crafting, we have hope for him, all is not lost.

Sophie Gorman, Irish Independent

Tremain is a consummate storyteller… There are few great dramas here, just a moving study of human emotions that’s full of compassion for even its most unappealing characters’

Jackie Kingsley, Eastern Daily Press

Turns the unpromising complexities of Swiss neutrality into something more captivating… Tremain plays clever variations on the ideas of distancing and self-denial.

Tim Martin, Daily Telegraph

A perceptive and beautifully realized novel of unrequited and misplaced love… A vivid book, alive with different kinds of passion… Written with immense tenderness, and is often extremely funny.

Lynn Roberts, Tablet

[A] perfect gem of a novel.

Mail on Sunday

Powerfully subtle look at love and rejection in the shadow of war.

Sunday Times

Her novels combine insight, elegance and sensuality – and this latest is no exception… It’s enthralling and at times exquisitely sad.

Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail

[A] superb new novel… She has the writerly gift of conveying tenderness by what she leaves unsaid. A composition spanning 1939 to 2002, The Gustav Sonata will surely move you to melancholy - as, indeed, does all great music’

Madeleine Kingsley, Jewish Chronicle

A shrewd study of neutrality, political and personal.

Peter Kemp, Sunday Times, Book of the Year

I loved Rose Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata… The layers of story are engrossing and beautifully put together. A novel to savour and reread.

Helen Dunmore, Observer, Book of the Year

I find her writing very evocative and lacking in the self-indulgence that many successful novelists tend to develop… Absorbing and compelling.

Max Blackston, Birmingham Jewish Recorder

Tremain was on top form with her nuanced analysis of emotional and political neutrality, The Gustav Sonata.

Ali Smith, Guardian, Book of Year

Tremain was on top form with her nuanced analysis of emotional and political neutrality, The Gustav Sonata.

Ali Smith, Guardian, Book of Year

[A] moving and finely crafted novel about youth and friendship.

Alex Preston, Observer, Book of the Year

A compelling read.

Guardian, Book of the Year

I feel these characters will remain with me for a long time.

Guardian, Book of the Year

Tremain’s finest work yet.

Irish Independent, Book of the Year

Tremain’s sympathetic and perceptive treatment of her characters probes the essence of human relationships.

Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday

The Gustav Sonata is a powerful, profound and unexpected love story about the enduring damage of unrequited love. It is a masterful, meditative novel.

Hannah Beckerman, Guardian

It is a story of betrayal… A moving, human and memorable novel.

John Koski, Mail

The novel powerfully explores the implications of a country’s quest for neutrality as well as an individual’s quest for self-mastery, touching upon the difficulties and social tensions that may arise.

Harriet Cunningham, Palatinate



I was totally engrossed by this beautiful novel about life’s imperfection

Michael Etherton, Jewish Telegraph

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    June 13, 2016

    Chatto & Windus

    256 pages

    RRP $29.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Paperback


    January 30, 2017


    320 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    May 19, 2016

    Vintage Digital

    320 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo

Awards and Recognition

  • Costa Novel Award