Three Gifts, by Mark A Radcliffe, tells the story of Francis Broad, a well meaning but anxious individual living near the coast in southern England. It opens on the day he expects to die, an event he anticipates with deep sadness but also acceptance. Francis bartered away a large chunk of his life in exchange for extensions to the lives of loved ones. What follows is the detail of why and how this happened.
Francis was raised by his loving mother in a degree of poverty. His father was often absent, first by choice and then by circumstance. Also residing in the family home was his grandfather whose incontinence made getting out into the fresh air appealing. From a young age Francis would go running as a way of dealing with his miserable schooldays and complex emotions when it appeared only his mother cared for him.
As adolescence approached Francis would run as far as a local beach, eventually plucking up courage to swim there. Swimming became another way of coping, and provided an introduction to a stranger who seemed to understand what the boy was going through. Despite his mother’s best efforts, homelife never became easier.
Eventually Francis escapes into further education. Here, for the first time, he finds friends. Life moves on. He connects with a loving partner and they have a daughter. Throughout, Francis is calculating how much time he has left before his agreed death date.
This is a story of a man, his friends and his family. From the first page it draws the reader in. Although gentle in many ways there is understated dark humour and much to consider. The characters are mostly decent but face many challenges.
The writing style brought to mind that of David Nicholls. There is economy in observations but also warmth and a comforting empathy. Sad things happen but always there is a backbone of kindness. Friendships endure in a way many can only dream of experiencing.
The central premise – that an individual may choose to trade years of their life to save the life of another – is a curious idea to explore with its conflicting elements of sacrifice and selfishness. Although its exposition here is a tad surreal, the author offers enough ambiguity to make this a point to ponder seriously. I particularly enjoyed how it was woven into the ending.
A story with the potential to appeal to a wide audience, compassionate yet never saccharine. There is much to consider in how best intentions can hurt those they are intended to help.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, époque press.