In The Gustav Sonata we are taken along in the friendship between two men, Gustav and Anton. Their different backgrounds, wishes and ambitions come together effortlessly in the novel. Tremain also making clear that the chosen neutrality of a country does not necessarily imply neutral actions. Switzerland, famous for its self-chosen neutrality, at a certain moment in time stopped Jews fleeing from the Nazi-regime from entering the country. In order to avoid being invaded the lives of many Jews were sacrificed. Gustav’s father is one of those people who could not sit by and watch; as a result he is dishonorably discharged from his job as a policeman. His wife Emilie never stops blaming him and the Jews for ruining her comfortable life. Baby Gustav is raised by an embittered mother who is incapable of loving him. As a result adult Gustav strives to please people and make them loved and comfortable. His best friend Anton appears to live a satisfied, in reality he cannot cope with the fact that his stage fever has prevented him from becoming a successful pianist. He has to accept life as a piano teacher.
Tremain has divided her novels into several periods; she acquaints us with Gustav and Anton as young children and then jumps on to their fifties. Gustav’s parents serve to go back further into time and to show how World War II also changed the lives of neutral people. A short separation in which Emilie returns to her maternal home makes clear why she has turned out so bitchy: she has been raised by a loveless mother herself. Nevertheless, I fear she would never have become a really friendly person. Gustav shows that a loveless youth can be overcome: he is kind and watches over Anton, it being quiet clear to the reader that he is hopelessly in love with his best friend.
The Gustav Sonata is a subtle novel. Tremain writes almost as neutral als Switzerland. Her choice of words, the way sentences are constructed, the structure of the story, together they make a convincing novel. Tremain shows how youth and upbringing influence lives. She also shows that peaceful conditions for one friend can be suffocating ones for the other. Gustav at first sight is a boring uninspiring man, Tremain through him states that friendship and loyalty can be as precious as a life filled with excitement.