Date finished: 4th June 2011
The Novel In The Viola is Natasha Solomon’s second book, and is another Dorset set story of a Jewish character during the second world war, but this book tells a much different story from her first, Mr Rosenblum’s List. Elise is a Jewish teenager in 1930s Vienna, whose family is having to go their separate ways in order to escape the Nazis. Her sister and brother-in-law are California bound, while her parents are waiting for their papers to go to New York, and Elise’s exit route finds her taking a job as a maid in an English country home called Twyneford on the Dorset coast, until her parents are settled in America and can arrange for her to join them. The book follows the experience of the family through Elise’s story, and the effect of the war on them and on the house she comes to live in.
I really enjoyed Mr Rosenblum’s List when I read it earlier this year, but I have to say, The Novel In The Viola for me, was even better. Although a much more traditional story in some ways, I thought she evoked the period extremely well, I loved the juxtaposition of Elise’s life in Vienna compared to that of Dorset, as well as watching her grow as a person in the to woman she becomes. Alongside that, it’s also interesting to follow the fortunes of the English country house and the impact the war had on that too. The characters were all three dimensional for me, and I felt that I could picture them all in my mind. I was also really pleased that the focus on Elise’s family was about their relationships with each other, and their artistic talents rather than their religion, as it made them more real in my mind, whereas in other books I’ve sometimes read about this period in history, the religion takes over everything in the story of the people and authors can sometimes forget to tell us what the people are like and not just what they are going through.
I must admit, I got a bit confused between the real place names and the fictional ones as I know that area of Dorset quite well, and I can see why the author felt she needed to change some of them in order to make the distinction between fact and fiction, I did then find it a little bit jarring to see the real names of villages and towns in the text as well. Tiny complaint really, and only if you know the area would this have any effect on the reader, and it certainly wouldn’t stop me recommending this to anyone else.
It’s definitely the sort of story that would lend itself to adaptation to the screen, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that it has been optioned either for a film or television adaptation.