Recently I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Novel in the Viola (Sceptre), the second novel from Natasha Solomons.
First impressions were a bit mixed. I was expecting this:
…having overlooked the fact that this is the hardback cover. I think it’s really lovely and the colours are perfect, whereas I’m still not entirely taken with the paperback.
I wasn’t keen on the picture of the woman before I started reading, and having finished I still can’t make the connection. I think it’s always tricky when there are images of people involved because, and this is partly the beauty of reading, the image you create in your head may be very different to what someone else reading the words is imagining. Still, I’m not completely down on the artwork. The spine looks absolutely GORGEOUS.
Note to self: Trying to take the “perfect” photo of a favoured book will take HOURS/DAYS.
From the very first line, The Novel in the Viola evokes memories; Elise’s memories of her family, her home and of Tyneford, and those of the reader of books which clearly influence Solomon’s writing. Anyone who has read Rebecca can’t fail to notice the parallels from the opening line
When I close my eyes I see Tyneford House.
Rebecca was ever present throughout the novel, especially in the scenes at the bay (Solomons discusses this influence in an interview on her website here). Personally, the book also provoked memories of when I first read I Capture the Castle and A Little Princess. Alongside these ran everything I’ve read around the period in which the novel is set (it opens in 1938), the most obvious being Solomon’s first novel Mr Rosenblum’s List; although the main characters are very different, their emotions come from a similar place. (Also, for those like myself who took an almost OTT shine to Downton Abbey last October, there were definite moments where I found myself imagining the staff of Downton working at Tyneford House!)
All of this served to add even more depth to what was a wonderful reading experience; The Novel in the Viola is a fantastic, affecting, romantic novel and I loved every minute of it. The characters are developed with care and humour and the story twists and turns in a way which is both surprising, yet at the same time feels almost inevitable, as is often the case with novels set in this era and taking care of similar subject matter. My only criticism – SPOILERS – is that it wasn’t more hopeful. I’m not suggesting that everything we read should be neatly tied up at the end with everyone living happily ever after but I do think that the conclusions we are looking for depend very much on the type of book we are reading (although that’s another blog post entirely) and at times the tone of the The Novel in the Viola was that of a story which usually ends on a happier note. I think Solomons chose the more realistic ending, especially given the true fate of the real life village in which the novel is set – Tyneham – which was taken over by the military in 1943 and never returned to the villagers, and so eventually left to ruin. Although this is the sad reality, I fluctuated between wanting know the truth of what happened, however awful, and wanting everything to work out for Elise and the inhabitants of the village, depending on the chapter I was reading.
Perhaps Natasha Solomons’ most amazing talent (aside from her ability to wrap a story in some form of historical literary cardigan (I know exactly what I mean, apologies if you don’t!), imagine a wonderful storyline and fill it with real characters) is her knack for describing settings. As a West Country girl myself (and overly proud of the fact), it’s not hard to draw me in with the odd mention of the countryside and in The Novel in the Viola Solomons conjures up some wonderful imagery of old stately homes, paths cutting through fields and hedgerows and the fantastic coastline with which we are blessed in England. I could see it all! (Although it probably helps that I’ve actually seen it.) There’s a lovely little photo and some comments about taking inspiration from Durdle Door on Natasha’s website here (I’d just like to note – now I’ve started talking about our shared love for the country, we’re on first name terms – it’s not “Solomons this” or “Solomons that” anymore! Oh no! We are united through our affinity with the Dorset coastline).
So, there you are. It’s beautifully written and you should definitely read it, whether you want to start analysing your way through all the real (and imagined) literary references or just want a book to get immersed in. Off you go!