Swiss Sonata

Swiss Sonata

Book - 2005
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Swiss Sonata is the first novel by Gwethalyn Graham, written when she was just 25. The novel is set in a girls' boarding school in Switzerland in 1936. What makes this novel extraordinary is not just the penetrating insights into the behaviour of the girls -- echoed later in novels such as The Wives of Bath -- but for her timely insights into the dark clouds of war and hatred gathering over all of Europe at the time.
Publisher: Toronto : Cormorant Books, c2005.
ISBN: 9781896951621
1896951627
Branch Call Number: GRAHA
Characteristics: xvii, 326 p. ; 22 cm.

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ksoles Jun 13, 2011

I read this obscure Canadian gem a number of years ago but I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed it until my partner checked it out from the library this week. Told in three parts and spanning three days, the novel follows a sonata's format: the action begins quickly, builds further and then concludes with a melancholy tone.

Swiss Sonata takes place in a "finishing school" in 1935, a microcosm of pre-war Europe. Graham creates an intricate interplay between 34 characters (mostly women), which is no mean feat though in some scenes it becomes difficult to distinguish one voice from another. Impressively, the novel's assumptions about women's place in the world feel quite modern and psychological insights ring true even today.

But the most fascinating aspect of Graham's work is that she published it in 1938 (at age 25), yet her political understanding of Nazi policies reads like hindsight. She makes pointed comments on the social mores of the day and presents a historical, eminently readable account of the eve of the plebiscite in the Saar coal-mining region that returned this valuable resource to Germany.

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