I am taking part in this year's Blogging from A to Z Challenge. This is my submission for W ...
This is the latest book by Patrick Gale, his 17th novel. I first came across Patrick Gale when a colleague lent me 'Friendly Fire', a book written by a friend of theirs from Cornwall. I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful first person narative about a private church school. School life is observed in beautiful detail and it was no surprise to me to learn later that Patrick had been at Winchester. But Friendly Fire's narrator is Sophie. What struck me was how perfectly Patrick was able to capture Sophie's voice - not just as a teenage girl, but as someone who was clearly an outsider - looking in. I knew that point of view and recognised it - as a boarding school outsider myself.
Then - upon lending me 'Rough Music', I was told the tale of Patrick's struggles to make it as a writer. Of the amusing tales he told of working - for years - in a typing pool where the chatter provided him with much inspiration for characterisation. I read it and was so blown away by the descriptive prose, that I decided I'd never make a writer if someone as talented as Patrick had suffered so long.
Finally, the book I liked the most: 'Notes from an Exhibition'. A lover of art, I so enjoyed reading of Rachel - the bi-polar artist at the centre of the book. I was especially struck by the wonderful weaving of fiction with that of fact - Rachel mixing with the famed Cornish art world and the description of the impact Barbara Hepworth's overwhelming personality has upon her. The other personalities - Rachel's husband, sister and children - are also so well-drawn that I never minded from whose perspective the story was being told.
Although they were always going to struggle to top 'Notes', I thought his subsequent works felt more hurried, although perhaps I was being overly influenced by the knowledge that he had taken on the responsibility for a big music festival in Cornwall and was finding it more time-consuming than expected.
I wasn't sure if I was going to buy the new one. Not just that, but to buy it in hardback so that Patrick could personalise it for me at some point. I'd done this with every book from 'Notes' but had actually given away all but 'Notes' as gifts. But good old amazon was selling it at a decent price, so I ordered it. There is a shed-load of books on my to-be-read bookcase, as well as my to-be-read kindle, but the book's fulfilment of the W in my A-Z challenge meant it got bumped right up the list.
To cut to the chase - I liked it. I think he's very much back on form. I read a review who bemoaned that Patrick was becoming one of 'those' gay writers where his books are all about the gayness. I wanted to ask him if he bemoaned the rampant hetrosexuality of Ernest Hemmingway ... but I sat on my hands. Yes, there is a particular sensitivity and empathy in Patrick's depiction of gay characters, but these are not books of campness and fag-hags. These are well-rounded tales, with well-rounded characters, well researched and written - regardless of gender or sexual preference.
'A Place called Winter' moves back and forth in time - doing a slow reveal of the story of Harry Cane. Its another first person narrative and tells of Harry's years as a young man, his beloved brother Jack, his marriage to Winnie, his subsequent outing, his emigration to Canada to homestead, finally to his treatment in two very varied mental facilities. Initially Harry was a bit of a cipher. He seems like a charicature but - in reality - he just didn't know who or what he was. He started life as simply a gentleman, with nothing else to distinguish him. He has an idea that he would like to farm and increasingly feels his own lack of purpose when his brother trains to become a vet but, until his outing, knows not what to do about it. Homesteading in Canada is hard and physical, but he builds a new life for himself until some unknown (till the end) event means he ends up incarcerated in an asylum. There is a happy-ish ending, in that he is reconciled with the love be believed lost to the war, tempered with the understanding that the illegality of homosexuality still shadows his chosen life.
Have you read Patrick Gale and - if so - do you have a favourite? What did you think of the review I mention about gay writers?