The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

I love reading fiction set during World War II and The Novel in the Viola is one of the best I’ve read for a while. The story begins in 1938 when we meet nineteen-year-old Elise Landau, a girl from a rich Austrian family (her mother, Anna, is a successful opera singer and her father, Julian, a famous author). Until now, Elise has lead a secure and comfortable life but that’s all about to change because the Landaus are Jews, and with Europe on the brink of war Austria is no longer a safe place to live. And so Elise is sent away from her home in Vienna and travels alone to Tyneford House, a mansion on the south coast of England, where she will work as a maid for Mr Rivers and his son, Kit. Her parents have remained in Austria while they await American visas and they promise to send for Elise as soon as possible – but as the war continues, she begins to wonder if they’ll ever be reunited.

The portrayal of life in an English country house forms a big part of the story, with insights into the class system, social conventions of the time, and the relationships between servant and master. Elise has to get used to working as a parlour maid after spending most of her life having servants of her own. Her background makes it difficult for her to fit in with the other servants at Tyneford but her status as a maid and a Jewish refugee prevents her from being accepted by some of the Rivers’ upper class friends. Elise is a wonderful character and I enjoyed following her as she settled into her new life – I thought Natasha Solomons displayed a real understanding of what it was like to be newly arrived in an unfamiliar country, feeling homesick and struggling with the language and the culture.

There are lots of beautiful, atmospheric descriptions of the Dorset countryside and coast which gave me a true feel of what it was like to live there during the Second World War. The story also looks at the effects the war had on the village of Tyneford and the house itself. The author’s note at the end of the book was very interesting and explained how Tyneford was based on a real place that became a ghost town because of the war.

There are so many other things I could say about this book – there’s the secret of the ‘novel in the viola’ itself, and I haven’t even mentioned yet the romantic storyline which develops as Elise begins to fall in love with someone she meets at Tyneford. But I don’t want to spoil this book for you, so I’ll just say that The Novel in the Viola was a real pleasure to read, a great story with just the right balance of sadness and humour. And I thought the way the book ended was perfect – the only problem was that I had grown to care for Elise and the others so much I didn’t want to leave them behind.

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17 thoughts on “The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

  1. Lisa says:

    I love that feeling at the end of a book, of wanting to know what happens to the people, as their story continues. It means I’ve really connected with it. Maybe that’s why I like continuing series so much.

  2. The Book Whisperer says:

    Lovely review, Helen. I have seen this book in bookshops a lot recently but for some reason haven’t even picked it up to read the blurb. It sounds like one I would really like, having read your review. I love books that I become so invilved with that I don’t want to leave them behind – that’s the sign of very powerful writing for me.

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t know anything about this book until I noticed it was one of the titles in the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club. I got it from the library but I wish I’d bought a copy so I could read it again!

  3. Sue says:

    This really is one of the best books I have read this year. I loved her style – and was with Elise all the way through – her disappointments became mine. I thought there were also very clever allusions to history. There were parallels with the Jewish family in ‘The Invisible Bridge’ (which I also enjoyed) and by using that knowledge understood more about her parents’ plight as Solomons very much kept the emphasis on Elise’s life and feelings. Excellent review too.

    • Helen says:

      I read The Invisible Bridge recently too but haven’t had time to post my review yet. Both books are among the best second world war books I’ve read in some time. I’m glad you’ve also enjoyed them!

  4. Anbolyn says:

    I’ve read several very favorable reviews of this recently and it just sounds so outstanding. Another book I will eagerly await here in the US… It looks like it will be called The House at Tyneford here and is due to be published in December.

    • Helen says:

      I wonder why they’ve changed the name. I think The Novel in the Viola is a great title. It will be worth waiting for anyway – I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  5. dragonflyy419 says:

    I will have to check this book out. The best books are often those that you have a hard time parting from — so with you having said that I am confident this will be a great read.

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