Book Review: Take Nothing With You

Take Nothing With You, by Patrick Gale, tells the story of a teenage boy growing up in Weston-super-Mare, England. Eustace lives with his parents in a large property they run as an old people’s home, those in their care including two of Eustace’s grandparents. As an only child who does not enjoy sport he feels a misfit amongst his peers at school. He has one good friend, Vernon, whose home life is also unusual. Vernon finds solace in books. Eustace discovers his passion is music. Many of the characters introduced are artists of various disciplines.

The boys attend a fee paying school despite the fact Eustace’s family are not particularly wealthy. As Eustace approaches puberty he realises that he is attracted to boys more than girls.

The story begins with Eustace in his fifties, now comfortably off and living in London but facing a health scare. The narrative moves between this time frame and his adolescence.

A great deal of detail is provided of a teenage boy discovering and exploring his sexuality. It is, quite literally, a messy business. To counter this there is the beauty of the classical music. Some knowledge and interest in making music may help in enjoying the tale.

The author writes skilfully and the story flows. It was not, however, appealing enough for me. The plot arc was of interest but not the unremitting detail provided of sexual encounters and also musical technique. While wanting to know the outcome of the various crises introduced – including around parents, their problems with themselves and what their offspring were becoming – there were sections of description I would have preferred not to have had to wade through in order to find out what happened next.

I enjoyed the author’s previous book. This one did not engage.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tinder Press.

Gig Review: Patrick Gale in Bath

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This morning I arrived early at Christ Church in Bath where Toppings, the wonderful independent bookshop pictured above, had organised an author event with Patrick Gale. Having enjoyed the book he is currently promoting, A Place Called Winter, I was keen to hear what he had to say. Despite my unease in social situations I have come to enjoy listening to authors talk about and read from their creations.

Patrick was walking towards me as I entered the church so I introduced myself. He hadn’t a clue who I was, and why would he? A popular author with thousands of Twitter followers is not going to remember just one. Feeling slightly flustered I decided to ask him to sign my book; this too was a mistake. As he politely pointed out, if others saw him signing a book before the event then they too would expect such treatment. Mortified I retreated, craving a large rock under which to crawl in order to hide my shame at my faux pas. No rocks being available I made my way instead to the front of the church to calm myself in order that I may enjoy his talk.

I should mention the coffee and cake. At previous author events I have enjoyed a glass of wine. As Patrick was in Bath in the morning, attendees were offered freshly brewed coffee and a delicious array of home made cakes. Whoever made those cakes deserves an award.

On then to the main event. Patrick is undoubtedly an interesting speaker. He opened by explaining the background to his novel. Its protagonist, Harry Cane, is his great grandfather and he used known facts gleaned from his wider family as the framework on which to build this work of fiction. He talked of the challenges of writing a historical novel given changing attitudes and use of language. He described a fact finding trip he took to Canada where he visited the places referenced in his book.

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Before taking questions from the audience, Patrick read aloud two passages from the book. I enjoyed hearing the voices he gave to his characters. His subsequent explanations around the social attitudes at the time were a reminder of how certain things, such as homosexuality, would not have been discussed. The words that we use today did not exist as we know them; certain actions would have been deemed too shocking to be mentioned within the hearing of ladies.

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Two of the ladies in the audience, sitting just along the pew from me, well understood what he was saying. One of them is a granddaughter of the real Harry Cane and had traveled to hear her relative speak of the book he had based on their family. I do not know if she has yet read what he has written but she bought a copy at the church and joined the queue to have Patrick sign it at the end.

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There were a lot of people eager to have him sign their books. Below I captured just a fraction of the queue that snaked around this beautiful church, built so that those who could not afford a pew at the nearby abbey would have a place to worship. It is a lovely venue for a literary event.

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Having disgraced myself early on I waited until the very end before joining the queue. Patrick was most gracious as he got to my copy despite the number of eager readers who had gone before. Once again he showed no recognition. This time I kept quiet other than to spell out my name.

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Patrick is promoting ‘A Place Called Winter’ in many venues around the country. If you would like to go along then his schedule may be found here: Patrick Gale » Diary

Book Review: A Place Called Winter

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A Place Called Winter, by Patrick Gale, is a beautiful, sweeping saga of love and loss. Loosely based on the author’s own family history it tells the tale of Harry Cane, an English gentleman whose mother died giving birth to his brother when Harry was four years old. Cared for by a nursery maid until he was old enough to be sent away to school Harry barely knew his father who chose to grieve for his wife abroad. By the time he too died his boys had settled into a bachelor life of wealth and privilege, their only family each other.

Harry was an introvert with a stutter. He followed the expected conventions of the time but shunned social interaction when he could. Thanks to his brother’s more gregarious nature he was introduced to the woman who would become his wife. However, their settled life by the sea had to be abandoned when financial dealings went badly wrong. Soon after this Harry started an affair which, when discovered, led to his banishment abroad. He chose to seek a new life on the wild Canadian prairies, and ended up at a place called Winter.

Harry worked hard on his plot of land, made friends and settled down. He could not, however, rid himself of the attentions of a misogynist and bully who had taken an interest in him whilst on the boat to Canada. This man’s actions threatened to undo all that Harry had achieved.

The plot is compelling but it is the style of writing that drew me in. The evocative prose put me into the heart of every scene as I felt each character’s pain, uncertainty, triumph and despair. Harry was a good man, ill equipped to cope with those who would take advantage of his nature. He was born into a time when society punished those who dared to find love outside of narrowly prescribed convention.

The unfolding story made my heart ache. The injustices of a narrow minded society hurt. That such prejudices still exist today, even if no longer enshrined in law, shows that we still have some way to go before we may consider ourselves a civilised society.

Read this exquisite story, enjoy the beauty of the writing, the depth of the plot. This book has the potential to change a reader’s way of thinking. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tinder Press.