The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

Solomon’s writes her story of life, loss, love and beauty with heartbreaking precision. A truly moving tale.

When war begins to threaten in Nazi occupied Vienna the safety of Jewish people everywhere is compromised. Now Elise Landau and her family must find a way to survive. Born to an affluent Jewish family in Vienna, Elise has only ever known a life of luxury and decadence. Her mother and sister both glamorous Opera singers, her father a successful novelist. Elise has never worked, indeed she has being nurtured by her indulgent family and privileged upbringing. How will she cope then, when her life is tipped upside down? when her beloved family secure visa’s to America but cannot gain the same safety for her?

Upon her families insistence Elise places a small advertisement in a newspaper, seeking work in England as a housemaid, with a family, her parents insist, that will keep her safe until they themselves can arrange her visa. Solomon’s captures perfectly Elise’s innocence in the opening scenes of the book. She explores her inability to understand the severity of this situation, the danger that her life is in.

 It is with great reluctance that Elise savours the last few precious hours with her family, on the eve of the day she must depart for the mysterious and ominous England. From within the first enticing pages of the novel a tone of survival and loss is set.

As a final parting gift to his daughter, Elise’s father bestow’s her with a small, cherished family viola. Inside the viola, he tells her, are all the stuffed pages of his latest novel. Elise is charged with the safe keeping and responsibility of this precious object, which is also her last life line and connection to her family. A spark of mystery is ignited within her and stays ablaze as the novel wears on and her connection to home fades.

After leaving Vienna and passing through the mystifying, smoggy London, Elise finds herself a million miles from home in Tyneford where she is now to serve the Rivers family and Tyneford House. Elise must hide away her glamorous pearls and beautiful ball gowns and instead learn the subtle art of house keeping; she must remain unseen and un heard, waiting upon her English contemporaries as she was once waited upon herself. But Elise is no wall flower or a push over and as she adapts to lonely nights spent in her attic room, weak from the exhaustion of physical servitude, she also becomes a strong, resilient and determined young girl.

Elise’s journey throughout the novel and the insight we gain into her transformation from a slightly spoilt and pampered young lady to someone who utilises her gumption and bravado in order to survive is one that is intimate and endearing. Solomon’s deftly describes the experiences both past and present that help to shape Elise in to a girl who is caring, brave, incredibly daring, and a person who refuses to be cast into to Tynefords shadows.

Her behaviour causes a stir and ripple of scandal on more than one occasion and It isn’t long before she catches the eye of more than one gentleman. Heartbreak, scandalous gossip and excitement begin to ripple through Tyneford house.

If Elise is a huge part of the novel then so is Tyneford and Tyneford House. Solomon’s goes to great but rewarding pains to describe in vivid detail the beauty, smells, feels and sights of Tyneford. From the beach to the woods to the house itself Solomon’s ensure’s with carefully detailed writing and powerful imagery that the reader becomes as much immersed in Tyneford as in any of the novels characters.

Indeed even Elise who is so far from the comforts of her home land, becomes enthralled by the splendour of this new place, and whilst her heart longs for her mother, father, and sister, another part of her opens up to the beauty and force of Tyneford.

Elise must come to learn that whilst a place in heart will always remain tenderly and painfully open for her estranged family, another part of her must open up to the possibility of new love and new ties. Elise learns that we can love more than one person and be more than just one person.

This is a book that already seems to have caused a huge stir amongst book lovers with readers everywhere singing its praises, and it’s easy to see why. This story posses everything that a good story needs, well thought and detailed characters, a plot line that is so packed with emotion and drama that it can leave you breathless, and an insight into human suffering and pain that is so empathetic and accurate that it is hard not to become swept away in the emotion of this book.

Richard and Judy nominated this book as one of their summer reads and it’s easy to see why. Have you read this book? If so did you love it as much as everyone else seems to have done? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

7.5/10

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