54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
I loved this book, from start to finish it gripped me. It starts off with Elise in her Austrian days, having a lovely time in the early thirties and then quickly debunks to her new setting in England where she is sent to escape the impending whirlwind against the Jews. I had only a vague notion before this that some young well to do girls were sent from Austria in this way, but Elise's experiences are so well described that these events becoming incredibly real. The descriptions of the London fog, the confusion of being in a new city, let alone a new country are brilliantly painted. This could have been a sad but worthy tale about the journey of one such girl from a charmed life with servants to becoming a servant herself; but these is nothing pitiful in Elise's story, just the facts and wonderful descriptions of how she deals with things - although it is a sad tale in many ways. She comes to love the English countryside as her own home, given time she finds love, loses it and finds a more enduring love as a consequence. What I especially liked was the way Elise could stand back at times and see her own life, the possibilities of what might have been, which are often changed in a second by some stroke of fortune, good or bad or a particular decision. I love the authors style of writing, intelligent, caring but never falling into mere sentiment. I have already ordered the book she wrote before this one and can't wait to start it; a wonderful author to have discovered.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 19 July 2011
The Novel in the Viola
I read this book on holiday & found it to be one of the best books I have ever read! It is beautifully written & I was totally consumed in the story, feeling the emotion of fear, loss & love. I almost felt I was in the story, which is of course fiction based on the truth. I have since visited Tyneham Village, as I am lucky to live not far away, & I could imagine the life as was in the 1940's. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 September 2013
I have a real interest in this period and have read a number of novels and biographies exploring the same theme; that is, the experience of young Jewish people who find exile in England from the Nazi threat in Europe. To stand out, then, this would have to be good/special/different.
The first object is to establish the character in her old culture so we can understand how she copes with a dramatic change. The character does need to engage our sympathies, too. We meet Elise Landau in Vienna quite briefly, too briefly, and in that brief frame she definitely does not appeal. Her mother, a superdiva, is singing arias in the bath while a maid serves champagne; Elise and her sister look sadly at the space on the wall where the Renoir used to hang. Her father is a famous author, her brother -in -law is an astronomer in California. Ok, right.
The next stage is the transition - the journey from old culture to new, as we see the character coping or not coping. In this book Elise is in Vienna on one page and in London the next. No transition.
It is in the new culture that the author really loses the plot. In the first instance, Elise, known to us so far as a completely ineffectual spoilt brat, morphs overnight - literally overnight - into a mature young woman soldiering up for difficulties and trauma. How did that happen?
But there's worse. Does Elise or does she not speak and understand English? On one page she does not - her luggage annoys her landlady but she doesn't know why. She is afraid of walking outside her hotel in case she can't find her way back. The next day however she has managed to cross London - with luggage - catch a train south and recall every station the conductor announces from Waterloo to Weymouth. At one moment she cannot converse with passengers and rants at them in German, but a little further down the track she has devoured an English newspaper [Czechoslovakia is going to be occupied - CLUNK!] and explains to a fellow-traveller the difference between Venice and Vienna- in English.
It is when Elise gets off the train that I decided to leave her. Precisely when a horse clops into the narrative - Mr Bobbin!!! Elise cannot understand the yokel sent to pick her up, though what he says is reproduced for us "Arthur Tizzard. But yer can call me Art". To this our ingénue replies "Like painting".
Looking at other reviews - virtually all very positive - I feel that it is seen as light, romantic fiction. But I like romantic fiction - amongst other things. I think this is simply a very badly written book, in every sense.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 9 August 2011
Rave reviews raised my hopes for this book but I was rather disappointed. The story is entirely predictable and I felt it was peopled with "stock characters" of the kind often found in tv dramas. The tone of the book is gently elegaic (the heroine loses not one but two lifestyles, firstly in pre war Vienna, and secondly among the English landed gentry) but given the bitterly tragic story of a girl losing her family to the holocaust I found the soft marshmallowy feel of the narrative to be inappropriate. I was speed reading it from about half way through; this reader was not gripped.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 May 2013
I loved Natasha Solomons' first book 'Mr Rosenblum's List' and so I wanted to give this one a go. But while Mr Rosenblum could make you laugh and cry at the same time, an emotion few are able to invoke, and was even almost Orwellian in tone, 'The Novel in the Viola' was very bland in comparison. The story and the characters in the former were enchanting, charming and most importantly genuine - in no way contrived; but in the main, the characters in this novel were more often than not, artificial and thus, simply tiresome.
I like the author's uncomplicated style and the story itself was pleasing enough, though in some places I felt like she was merely filling pages, which was distracting. The story was also highly predictable - you could make a guess as to what was coming and 9 times out of 10, be right - not exactly making it a page turner then. There wasn't a great deal of tension and the ending was weak. Having said all this, overall it is an enjoyable enough read and worth taking time out to do so if period/romance novels are to your taste.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I really liked some parts of this novel but was left untouched by others. While it's certainly characterful, a text with a definite personality, at times I felt that the urge to be self-consciously `charming' and `quirky' became a little too obvious.
That said, there are some really powerful and moving parts: the close nature of Elise's arty, eccentric Jewish-Austrian family is portrayed well, as is the central section of the war narrative. And the experience of the immigrant refugee, lost in a foreign language and culture, adapting herself to her new homeland feels authentic.
Elise is spiky and interesting as a narrator and her sense of survival is conveyed well. I liked the central romance, but have to admit that the ending was unsatisfying for me, though that's personal taste rather than it being badly or unconvincingly imagined.
So a mixed book for me, I loved some parts, was less keen on others. Solomons certainly has a definite literary personality and voice which is refreshing in a sea of monotone narrators - well worth a read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This was a fantastic read and I genuinely couldn't put it down! After reading a couple of `dud' books recently it was so nice to pick up a book with vivid descriptions and memorable characters that I could really get engrossed in. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys well written contemporary fiction with a touch of romance as well as books set during World War II.
The story starts prior to WWII and centres on Elise Landau, a Jew from Austria from a quite well-to-do family with an opera singer mother and author father. However, Jews are slowly having their rights taken away from them and Elise's' family decide it is perhaps best if they leave Vienna entirely. It is decided that Elise will be sent to England and work as a maid in an English home whilst they try and obtain a visa for the US and they will send for her later. Things don't quite work out as planned however, and as a reluctant Elise heads for the Dorset countryside with very little- and hiding a copy of her father's final manuscript in a viola, she wonders if things for her family will ever be the same again...
As I've said, this is a truly wonderful read where you really get to know and understand the characters as well as get a better idea of just how much of a struggle it was to be a foreign immigrant in Britain with war approaching. It's rather poignant and bittersweet in places yet laced with warmth and humour in others. I just adored Elise- she's a wonderful protagonist and the story of her and Kit was beautiful and touching. Her heartache as she misses and worries for her parents stranded in Vienna was also genuinely moving as was the way she was embraced by those at Tyneford. Elise grows up and matures as the story progresses- so I would also say that in a way this is a real coming of age novel. The end as well, had me close to tears- it was truly fitting.
I was genuinely sorry to have finished this book- but on a positive note I am looking forward to reading Solomon's first novel next. I love her descriptive and nostalgic style of writing and I'm really glad I gave this book a try.
A beautifully written, absorbing and moving novel which tells the story of Elise, a pampered Viennese teenager who flees the Nazis to become a maid in an English country house. She takes with her the manuscript of her novelist father's latest work, hidden inside a viola. Elise must adjust to a new country and social status, whilst also worrying about her family back in Austria as persecution of the Jews increases and war is declared. All of this, together with likeable and believable characters makes for a story that is immediately compelling and draws the reader straight in. I quickly felt emotionally invested in all of the characters and their fates.
As well as charting a huge life change for Elise, the story also poignantly portrays the end of an era and way of life for a whole community, as war changes irrevocably the traditional, rural English community that has adopted her. There is a powerful underlying sadness to the book, although it is never gloomy or depressing as such. The slow pace (although it is never dull) and high quality of writing allow the reader to really feel the privations of war very strongly. In terms of making you really feel the impact of the war on civilians, it is one of the most effective books I have read - and I've read plenty of books set in wartime over the years.
There are plenty of moments of humour as well, which Solomons proved her skill with in her first novel (the also excellent 'Mr Rosenblum's List' - highly recommended). The early part of the story particularly had plenty of bits that made me smile and occasionally laugh out loud. Elise is employed in the first place due to her unintentionally humorous advert, which amuses her employer enough to take a chance on her. Despite being extremely, unashamedly sad, it is really not a gloomy novel. Perhaps it is partly because you know from the start what to expect - it is set during the war and as it is narrated by Elise looking back she offers enough hints of impending disaster for the reader to not be under any illusions about the likely outcome.
Overall I found this a very compelling and enjoyable read, despite its often tragic subject matter, and a powerful depiction of the tragedy of war and the impact of those left behind at home. I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys literary fiction.
Elise is an Austrian girl, who seeks work in Britain. Whilst there is nothing untoward in such a thing. Elise is an Austrian Girl in the 1930s and Jewish. The only way for her to live is to escape her country of birth, find work and wait until she can rejoin her parents and sister in American.
That is how Elise comes to Tyneford Hall as a maid. However, Elise has stepped from one level of society down into another and she belongs in neither in the British Class System of the 1930s.
She is made to clean the silver and serve the tea.
She is used to having tea served to her and from silver tea pots that she has not even cleaned.
Underneath her maids uniform she wears the pearls her mother gave her as a security when leaving Austria. It is this touching memento which keeps Elise remembering exactly where she has come from and her status.
She is neither one or the other. Neither upstairs or downstairs. The staff can she does not belong with them, but does she really belong with the widowed man and his son, Kit upstairs?
But there is something about Kit that Elise is drawn to. And Kit is drawn to this rather interesting foreign parlour maid. Kit shows Elise that with the strength of love you can break down some barriers.
However the war that Elise escaped from in Austria comes to Tyneford Hall. The author then takes us slowly but surely through love and loss with great emotion that it all unravels as does Tyneford Hall itself.
The title is very much an interesting concept. It actually was lost in the whole story and whilst I believed for a long time in it and the future it would give, it was really a disappointment and the book could have worked without it. The House at Tyneford, which it has been called in other countries would have sat better with me and makes more sense to the overall story.
A book which was a refreshing change and it was interesting for it not to focus on someone British. As you read you know what happened in history and there is some inevitability to what happens, but the characters did not and the result of Elise losing contact with her past was heart wrenching. I wanted nothing more than a happy ending, but life does not have those all the time.
A book to read slowly, not one you can skip through at a heady pace because it does not allow for that. It draws you into the life of Elise and I enjoyed it with a sad melancholy I think. The subject matter was interesting and I do like a book set in the past but I would have liked to know more about Tyneford the place and the compulsory purchase of it to enable war training to continue unabated. That could have been give more and not as rushed as I thought it was.
A book that shows the changes not just war makes but loss, love and class. No matter who you are or where you come from, you must be loved for you simply and not what religion or class you stand for.
Having read Natasha Solomons' debut novel, Mr Rosenblum's List, I was interested to see what she would do next and jumped at the chance to read this, her second novel. From the title and cover colours, I thought the viola in question was the flower but it turned out to be the musical instrument and, as a viola player, this piqued my interest. Why would anyone put a novel in a viola?
This is the story of Elise Landau who leaves her life among Viennese society in the spring of 1938 for a new life as a parlour-maid at Tyneford house in Dorset. With faltering English and unused to domestic service, she has to cope with a complete change in circumstances and social standing. She has to find her own way in a new country, in a new language and in her first job, miles away from her sister, who has gone to California with her husband, and her parents, who have stayed in Vienna but are hoping to leave when their visas come through. Elise is very much a fish out of water and struggles to adapt but this, in itself, makes her a sympathetic character and means that she often finds herself in absurd and awkward situations. You can't help but smile at some of what happens, while also feeling for the poor girl. It's a novel about finding yourself when you have to reinvent yourself somewhere new and it's also about love in its various forms: that difficult sibling love she feels for her sister, the love she feels for her parents who she's left for the first time and the loves of her new life in Dorset. There are some particularly sad and poignant moments, like the one where the novel in the viola is freed from its hiding place, and I cried at her homesickness and how alone she feels. I liked how her story develops over the course of the book and felt that it chimed with the period in which the book is set. It is definitely much more than a love story, or a couple of love stories, but instead is the story of one immigrant finding her way and herself along the way. Lovely book. It was pleasure to read.