TTT: Beach Reads

TTTAs with last week’s “freebie” topic, I may have interpreted “beach reads” a little too literally. I can’t help it if The Beach was the first book that popped into my head. I can’t help it if I then examined my Goodreads bookshelves for other books that were set on or contained beaches. I can’t help it if I then found more than 10 books that fit the criteria. I can’t help it if I then complied this list and thought, “Bugger it, i’ll post it.”

The Beach by Alex Garland. As the title may suggest, this book is largely set on a beach. Or, at least, on a small island. With a beach. I had tried to watch the film before I ever picked up the book, but couldn’t get through it. The book, however, I devoured.

Rough Music by Patrick Gale. Set mostly in Cornwall, the family in this book stay in a holiday cottage with the beach just on their doorstep. It’s a picturesque setting for the drama that unfolds.

Off the Map by Hib & Kika. There are several beaches in this book, which is told in short vignettes of Hib and Kika’s travels around Europe.

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham. Where there are sea creatures emerging from the depths, there are beaches…

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. While mostly set at sea, there are one or two beaches. And you know, the sea is a vital component of a beach.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. Set on a small Scottish island, the beach may not be sunny and idyllic, but there is a beach.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Your classic stranded on a desert island pick.

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre. This book is the one anomaly in my list, as I can’t be certain whether it includes a beach or not. But, there is the North Sea coast and an oil rig converted into a holiday haven for people who love sun but hate other cultures.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Your second classic (with a twist) stranded on a desert island pick.

Island by Richard Laymon. Shipwrecked, stalked, kidnapped and murdered. All in the sun on a beautiful sandy beach.

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Rough Music

rmTitle: Rough Music

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.

Notes From an Exhibition

notesTitle: Notes From an Exhibition.

Author: Patrick Gale.

Summary: Gifted artist Rachel Kelly is a whirlwind of creative highs and anguished, crippling lows. She’s also something of an enigma to her husband and four children. So when she is found dead in her Penzance studio, leaving behind some extraordinary new paintings, there’s a painful need for answers. Her Quaker husband appeals for information on the internet. The fragments of a shattered life slowly come to light, and it becomes clear that bohemian Rachel has left her children not only a gift for art – but also her haunting demons.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I can’t say enough good things about this book. In fact i only have good things to say. Which might seem odd, given the three stars i’ve given it, but i’ll get to that.

The story revolves around a family; Rachel, Antony and their children. Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view and veers backwards and forwards in time to explore each characters’ childhood and adult lives.

It’s a quiet book. There are no huge revelations or action-packed scenes. It reveals its secrets slowly, over the course of the entire book, making each chapter a short story of its own that overlaps and weaves with the others.

I read it as much more of a character study than simply a narrative, and enjoyed it this way. I got to know these characters, their history, and explore how they each dealt with family, mental illness and death. No character was perfect, but neither was anyone entirely flawed. Seeing the same things from several points of view, and at different stages of the non-linear timeline gives the reader an omniscient perspective of events. It makes it hard to make any judgements on the characters involved and i finished the book with a sense that in spite of people’s intentions, life is random, unpredictable and completely out of our control.

The writing is excellent. Simple, but powerful. Gale deals with serious topics in a way which seems to easily convey so much meaning and depth.

As much as i can praise this books, as very well-written as it was… it’s just not my thing. I enjoyed it immensely for all of the above reasons, but it is not the kind of book i would usually read. I would not be able to read books like this too often; they would eventually bore me, i think. I need a little excitement, a little more humour and less normality. But as a one-off, i am very pleased i picked up this book.