There is nothing so comforting as reading a Patrick Gale book. He deals with serious stuff in such a cosy way that he sneaks it past you. After the wonderful A Place Called Winter, I was keen to see where the next story would take us.
Take Nothing With You is another epic told through the eyes of one man, Eustace. It’s a coming of age story with a difference as adult Eustace is in an online relationship with a squaddie who he’s never actually met who then finds himself on an isolation ward in hospital undergoing treatment. All he can do is to look inwardly at his life and through his memories we meet Eustace the child.
I loved both Eustaces. He is so unmistakably British with all the hang ups and manners that come with that. It’s fascinating to see how the odd bohemian influence here and confidence boost there can have an effect on the young lad contemplating being gay and worrying how society will treat him.
The claustrophobia adult Eustace feels on the hospital ward is equal to that he felt in his childhood, under pressure to be one thing and knowing he is another. Gale’s writing tone is like putting on a comfy jumper, I wouldn’t say they are page turners as more relaxed Sunday afternoon reads with a pot of coffee and a snuggly throw. You know the ending will come but there’s no need to rush these things. It is so easy to visualise the characters and scenarios it is almost like reading a film and that is a testament to Gale as an author and his wonderful ability to drop you right into a scene.
However with this style there needs to be pace to avoid your mind wandering. With A Place Called Winter the story had pace in bucket loads but with Take Nothing With You, I felt that the middle of the story did sag a little. A major part of the plot is Eustace’s freedom whilst playing the cello and that is all very nice but the level and amount of detail Gale gives us on this did get a bit stale. In fact I will admit to skipping some pages to get back to the story arc. I’m not musical, I’m never going to be musical, I didn’t need it.
It felt that Gale wasn’t sure what to do with his characters when he got to mid-point and there is a strange ending to Eustace the child’s part of the story that just didn’t sit right for me. Yes jeopardy was needed at this point but I just didn’t believe in it and it felt like a last draft insertion.
I understand that a lot of this book was autobiographical and it can be difficult transferring real life to a fictional story and sometimes the joins do show in this novel.
If you’re new to Gale’s writing, this is a great entry level book but please take time to read some of his earlier works, A Place Called Winter and Rough Music are brilliant.
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