The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons
I heard this author speak at a literary festival last year. I'd already bought this book, but it took me a while to get round to reading it - too many books, too little time!
I knew I'd like this one, and I wasn't wrong. It's set in Tyneford, which is closely based on the real-life village of Tyneham in Dorset, which was requisitioned by the MOD during the second world war, for training purposes. The entire village, including the manor house, was evacuated and used by troops training for D-Day. The villagers were never allowed back, and today the village is a museum, open only when the army aren't using their nearby firing ranges. I've been to Tyneham and it's a beautiful, magical place, so I knew I'd love a book set there.
Elise Landau is a Jewish refugee who comes to England in 1937 escaping persecution in her native Austria. She takes a job as a maid in Tyneford House, where she falls in love with Kit Rivers, the son of the squire. The late thirties is such an evocative time to begin a novel - the reader knows more than the characters of what's to come. And in this case, even after the war starts, we know that sooner or later the MOD are going to take over the village, and life will never be the same again.
What makes this book special, for me, is the description. The author is brilliant at describing the Dorset countryside, the farmland, hills, rocky coves that make up the area around Tyneham/Tyneford. And she's also a master at creating quirky village characters - fisherman Burt in this novel will stay with me a while.
The novel in the viola refers to a novel Elise's father wrote, and hid inside a viola which Elise brought to England with her. It symbolises hope for the future - that one day Elise will be reunited with her family again, and her father's last novel can be published. But as the war starts and then intensifies, can that ever happen?
Beautiful book, definitely recommended. I've read the author's first, Mr Rosenblum's List, also reviewed on here. I'm looking forward to her next.