The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

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The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: In 1938 a bright young thing escapes Vienna and becomes a parlour maid in England. We watch Elise change as the world changes. Highly recommended. Natasha Solomons was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: April 2011
Publisher: Sceptre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0340995679

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Elise Landau arrived in England in 1938, a refugee from Vienna where she and her family had had a good lifestyle. In England she's destined for Tyneford in Dorset where she'll be a parlour maid at the big house. She's not exactly looking forward to it, but she's escaped Vienna with some of her mother's jewels sewn into the seams of her dresses and her father's latest novel, in manuscript, is hidden in the body of her viola. Her sister is leaving for the USA and her parents hope to follow. Surely Elise will be able to join them before too long? She knows that she won't like England.

I knew that I was in for a treat as soon as I saw the advert which Elise placed as she looked for domestic work. She mentioned her fluid English and of her culinary skills promised that she would cook her employer's goose. She was fortunate to be invited to join the staff at Tyneford, home of Christopher Rivers and his son Kit, with a staff who generally do their best to help Elise. Kit is responsible for improving her English, but how are people to judge the relationship which develops between them? Is it between one of the family and a servant? Or should she be judged on her background in Vienna? What of her Austrian background and her Jewishness?

Times are changing and Elise will need to adapt with them. There's even more to cope with when war breaks out – she loses contact with her opera-singer mother and her father and even getting a reply from her sister in America can take six months. I recently read The English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons which is set in a similar time frame and has similar themes, but Natasha Solomons has wisely concentrated on Elise's life in England rather than the horrors of what was happening on the continent. It's still fascinating to watch as the staff who polished silver and served drinks on the lawn move away to war work and family and servants have to work together to do what is necessary.

Natasha Solomons develops Elise superbly. We see her change from a teenager with a long plait and a relationship with her sister which isn't always based on sisterly love into a mature woman who takes responsibility for herself and for others. Kit is a delight – the young man every woman falls in love with, but the character who reached out to me was Christopher Rivers. He's a widower and has been for many years, but he does his best by his family, his staff and the villagers of Tyneford. Throughout most of the book there's a wonderful sense of something held in check, of the needs of others being put before his own.

I really didn't want to put this book down. I didn't just want to know what happened, I wanted to stay with the people and find out how their stories continued. This book is a real gem.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

When we recommend further reading we don't usually tell you what to avoid, but The English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons is published at about the same time. If you read them without a decent interval you will find yourself knitting the two stories together. Read The Novel in the Viola for a bittersweet story and leave The English German Girl until you want to know what happened in Germany before and at the beginning of WWII. For a story set in the same part of the country at a later time you might like to try Playing With The Moon by Eliza Graham.

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Buy The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons at

Booklists.jpg The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons is in the Richard and Judy's Summer Reading List 2011.


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Bookinterviews.jpg Natasha Solomons was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.