The Novel in the Viola – Natasha Solomons

There are some books that are just a real treat to read. I don’t mean in a throwaway sense or a guilty pleasure, I am talking about a book that is just a delight to read from start to finish and I have to say that Natasha Solomon’s second novel ‘The Novel in the Viola’ is one such book. I liked her very successful debut novel ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ (or ‘Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English’ as its known in some other countries) very much, but this latest offering is even more my cup of tea. In fact speaking of cups of tea it’s the perfect book to settle down with in an armchair, nice cup of tea and some biscuits and just settle back and enjoy, not that this is a ‘happy go lucky’ tale by any means.

‘The Novel in the Viola’ is really two tales that over lap. The first tale is of Elise Landau in the year 1938. Despite her prestigious background, her mother Anna is a famous opera singer and her father Julian a novelist, Elise must flee her home in Vienna to escape what her family fear is coming because the Landau’s are Jewish and World War II is just on the horizon. However unlike her married sister Margot and her parents Elise cannot secure a visa to America with them and so in order to remain safe she must go to work in as a parlour maid in the English country house Tyneford.  The second tale is that of Tyneford both as a village and an estate itself and how it too changed because of the war, if you love the history of ghost towns then you will love this. From here we follow both Tyneford and Elise in a changing world in a tale of love, loss and a side of the War we very rarely see.

Where I think that Natasha Solomons really excelled herself with this novel was with Elise. I don’t think I have come across such a character in quite sometime. She is a real dichotomy of everything; she is at once vulnerable and prickly, naïve and knowing, heart breaking and hilarious. Basically she lives and breathes and is a pleasure to spend time with, be it in the comfort of a decadent Vienna or in the stairways and servants quarters where everything is in reverse and Elise is an awkward stranger. It is through her eyes and with her sense of humour that what could be an incredibly sad book becomes more of a bittersweet one with its sprinkling of humour thrown in here and there.

“While at most parties I watched as the men swarmed Margot and Anna, tonight I had caught little Jan Tibor surreptitiously glancing at my bosom, and I felt every nit as sophisticated as the others. In the darkness of the hall I puffed out my chest and fluttered my eyelashes, imagining myself irresistible, a dark-haired Marlene Dietrich.
   ‘Darling, don’t do that,’ said Anna, appearing beside me. ‘The seams might pop.’”

It was also this role reversal of Elisa’s life and circumstances, which I believe are based on one of the author’s family members, which I found utterly fascinating and was an aspect of the war I hadn’t heard of nor thought of. It also made me think of ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ which I am hoping people will pick up on and being as they are so much in the public consciousness at the moment will also make more people run to the novel which they should. I also found the opening line “When I close my eyes I see Tyneford House.” reminiscent of my favourite book ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. In fact as I went along there were shades, never in a way that ripped another novel off I hasten to add, of other books I loved which made this book both familiar and comforting too. How Solomon’s has managed to do all this I simply don’t know, but it’s a credit to her and I can’t wait for her next.

It would be easy, and I would really love to, to just tell you about every single wonderful character, event and twist (both the happy and the sad) that Solomons puts in the path of her reader during ‘The Novel in the Viola’. That though would be to spoil what is a true reading delight. Some books simply tick all a readers requirement boxes. I loved the story, the era, the characters (Elise in particular I could spend hours and hours with), the atmosphere, the elements of both sadness and humour – neither to excess and of course Solomons writing which encapsulated and captured them all. I even loved the love story, and I don’t normally fare so well on those. 9.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

Who else has read ‘The Novel in the Viola’? I have a feeling that now it’s a Richard and Judy pick for their latest book club (though I don’t really like the new cover) this book is going to be pretty popular and well read, and rightly so. In fact it’s quite spooky as I had two of their other picks scheduled over the next week or so before it was announced. Back to today’s post though, have any of you read ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’?  What was the latest book you read that was a complete reading treat, and I don’t mean guilty pleasure, from start to finish?


Filed under Books of 2011, Natasha Solomons, Review, Richard and Judy, Sceptre Publishing

16 responses to “The Novel in the Viola – Natasha Solomons

  1. Louise

    I hate the new cover! It’s so ugly and the back is all shiny. I got it today as part of 3 for 2 at Waterstones. I’ve not read Mr Rosenblum either, it’s waiting to be read…i’m reading Stiff at the moment,want to wait til i’ve finished that before diving into Mr Rosenblum.

    • No I am not a massive fan of the new cover so I am rather please that I have the old hardback one which also seems to match its predeccesor and they look lovely on a shelf together. Not that this should of course matter, though it does a little, because the contents are superb.

  2. Annabel

    This one’s in my pile too – looking forward to it even more now.

  3. FleurFisher

    I didn’t warm to mr Roseblum last year, but I fell in love with Elise and Tyneford, so I shall be giving him another chance very soon.

    • Its interesting you should say that. I actually liked Mr Rosenblum, however I found I wanted the book to have been written from the persepctive of his wife. She seemed to almost have more of a story to tell and could have given it a more readable angle. I enjoyed it regardless but I think I even mentioned that in my book thoughts on it.

  4. I just (finally!) read Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English and while I didn’t love it, there was enough in it to intrigue and entertain that I’ve been very excited to get hold of The Novel in the Viola. I’m on the hold list for it at the library but it’s still showing on order so who knows how long it will be before I get to read it! Thankfully, it sounds like it will be worth the wait!

    • It’s interesting hearing peoples thoughts on Mr R because the reviews I saw in the main were really positive and indeed I really liked it. I knew there was real promise in the next book from it too, and it seems I was proven right. Glad your still going to give this one a whirl.

  5. I’ve had Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English in the wishlist for ages. This one would attract me for the cover alone!

  6. lubylou12

    Great review Simon, I’ve been thinking about reading this book but I’d only read very vague reviews until now. What you’ve wrote has really gripped my interest, can’t wait to try it.
    Glad you said it was an area of the war we rarely see portrayed as well, that was one of my concerns that it wouldn’t be orignial enough. Definitely sounds it though : )

    • Thanks Lou. I really liked this book a lot. It had something different about it and looked at the war from a different persepctive. I do have to say though the new cover is going to have people thinking its a cosy book, one thats a bit twee and charming and its sooooo much more than that.

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  9. Hello,
    Your review is very interesting. I’ve finished the book (in English) yesterday and I’ve like it very much, although the “war part” isn’t my favourite one.
    Excuse my bad English 😦

    • Thanks for commenting, thats very kind of you. The war part as a favourite part, hmmm, its there to make the story happen and indeed because it did happen so I am not sure how you could get around that one.

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