27 July 2014 2 Comments
Author: Patrick Gale
Summary: Julian as a small boy is taken on the perfect Cornish holiday. With the arrival of glamourous American relations emotions run high and events spiral out of control. Though he has been brought up in the forbidding shadow of the prison his father runs, though his parents are neither as normal nor as happy as he supposes, Julian’s world view is the sunny selfish, accepting one of boyhood. It is only when he becomes a man – seemingly at ease with love, with his sexuality, with his ghosts – that the traumatic effects of that distant summer rise up to challenge his defiant assertion that he is happy and always has been.
Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5
Review: This was my second Patrick Gale book, and while i had nothing bad to say about the first one i read, Notes From an Exhibition, it just wasn’t my kind of book, either. The same can be said for Rough Music, but for some reason, i loved this one. I couldn’t put this book down. I had to keep reading.
I think the thing i don’t like about Gale’s books is that they are character driven. There is no main plot or storyline, per se, but an exploration of the characters and their lives. I’m sure others would argue that the characters’ lives is the storyline, but i see it more as a series of events. Semantics, but there is a difference. Regardless, Gale is brilliant at what he does. He shaped these vivid and flawed and realistic characters, he made me sympathise and despise all of them in turn. Although i dislike the lack of a plot, characters can make or break a book for me. I don’t have to like them, but they have to be well-written, and these ones are.
Set in two time lines, simultaneously told, the book details the events of the same family on holiday to the same cottage in Cornwall years apart. It is the events that happen at the cottage and among the members of the family that make up the story. What i do like about Gale’s story telling is the hints and information we are given, and slow reveal of things. We know something happened on the first holiday, and we can take educated guesses as to what, but there are more questions to be asked, more things the reader wants to know, that don’t get revealed until the last few chapters. The second present-day holiday includes both new, dramatic events and a reverberation of the events of the previous holiday. An interesting twist in this is that the mother of the family, who was a main party in the events of the first holiday is, at the time of the second holiday, now suffering with early onset Alzheimer’s. How much does she or does she not remember?
I was gripped, basically. I knew the vague plot, and the major points of what had happened on the first holiday, while the drama that would be surrounding the second holiday is revealed very early on. These weren’t the things that made the story gripping. It was the details, the characters and their motivations. The story is told from three alternate points of view: the mother, the father and the son. What i felt was lacking most of the way through was the point of view of the other child–i wanted to know more about her, her thoughts and motivations. But of course this was the point. To include hers would have given too much away, and the revelations saved for the very end of the book were mostly hers.
I’m still shocked at how much i really enjoyed this book. It’s still just not my kind of book, but there is also something in it i love, and envy in writing. Realistic characters, well-told. I need more books that have that and more of an external plot pulling the characters along. I’m undecided if i will read any more books by Gale. I think i like the idea of having him as a ‘safe’ back-up author that i can turn to if i need an easy not-my-usual read, but i also fear, after reading reviews for his other books, that i’ve already read the best two.