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I picked up another Patrick Gale - called 'Notes From An Exhibition' - and read it very quickly and with considerable pleasure. So when I noticed that I had another of his books on my shelf - Rough Music - I was pleased and was anticipating a pleasurable read. I was not disappointed.
The two books are both largely set in west Cornwall which must be an area that the author knows and loves; the descriptions are too rich and emotive to be other than those of a long-term fan. Both books have a woman with a mental illness amongst the central characters; both revolve around family and the strains and stresses - the family fault lines, as it were - which from time to time emerge. Both have a gay man as one of the central characters too, but they are for all that very different stories. Other than also, in passing, recommending it, I shall say no more about 'Notes'.
(The 'blurb' in fact says that the author lives near Land's End).
Rough Music, we learn, is a term from central Europe where the townspeople gather outside a house where there is sexual activity of which they disapprove - like adultery - and they bang pots and pans or shout or whistle to express their displeasure. There are some sexual shenanigans in this book too, but music is a deeper theme running through the book.
Most of the action takes place in a rented holiday home in Cornwall and there are two holidays there, about 30 years apart. The holiday home has been redecorated and repainted in the meantime and has been renamed and we know if we are in the 1960's or the current decade by the name of the bungalow at the chapter heading.
This is a family drama and there are parallels and echoes between the two breaks, not least the presence of so many of the same people between the two events.
SPOILER ALERT - DON'T READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT SOME OF THE PLOT REVEALED
In the 1960's, it is the mother who is having an affair with her brother in law: In the 2000's it is her son who is having an affair with his brother in law. The relationships, taking place in the same house a generation apart, are integral to the story and plot lines twist about this. The character of the mother has early-onset Alzheimer's and is not well but is not uniformly ill. At times very present, she is also sometimes thrown back into the past. This is a beautifully drawn picture. Her relationship with her own husband, father of the main character, is also beautifully drawn in all it's somewhat dysfunctional stiltedness and is very believable. You are left wondering not why the relationship failed at times but why it ever worked at all.
I was in Devon in the period of the first holiday and playing on the beach as a little lad as the character is in this book. I also remember the journey to the West Country before the motorways were build south of Birmingham - it was a two day journey from Manchester to Torquay in the mid 60's, with an overnight stop in Gloucestershire! - so this book brought back some actual memories for me as well as painting a picture but it is a well executed picture I think.
The characterisation is plausible and although some of it could be called predictable - like the gay man and his best 'fag-hag' female friend promising to marry one another if they were both still single at 40 - it was nevertheless engaging.
Most of us have had to transition from knowing our parents as seemingly omnipotent adults to realising that they are fallible, have feet of clay and can even be petulant or petty: And that process of getting to know them anew and to understand them, for better or for worse, is beautifully illustrated here.
Although I have given away some of the plot there is more I have not, some of it not revealed until the very end and I would recommend this as a good, easy read. A train journey to Cornwall or a beach somewhere and this will comfortably fill a couple of hours.
My copy was published by Harper Collins in the 'Harper Perennial' imprint.
I love Cornwall and I love Patrick Gales books! I had only read one of Patrick Gales books (Notes from an Exhibition) and I loved it, so I went out and bought Rough Music. The book had a lot to live up to and I wasnt dissapointed. This is a great book by Patrick Gale and I intend to read more of his novels as I havent been dissapointed yet.
The book is a well written novel covering three generations of a family. As with his previous book, a lot of characters are introduced early on and so its quite difficult to grasp it, but when I did I couldnt put it down.
The novel focuses Julian a 40 year old man, who decides to go on a holiday with his family. This holiday rustles up many memories from his childhood, and what with the complications with his relationships in the present, the holiday doesnt end as well as hoped.
This novel flows very well and although its difficult to understand who's who at the begining it soon falls into place. The reader is with the main character throughout the novel as he slowly unravels the mysteries to his past. Patrick Gale keeps you wanting more and creates a great deal of suspense.
Overall it was a very good read and as I have said before the fact the holiday is set in Cornwall is a bonus and he describes the beautiful setting so well.
Patrick Gale is one of my favourite authors. He has written 16 novels and has been called 'Britain's most successful gay writer'.
He was born in 1962 on the Isle of Wright, but now lives in Cornwall. His father was the prison governor of Camp Hill Prison and Gale was brought up living in the prison grounds. In 'Rough Music' this unusual childhood is vividly evoked, as the central character grows up in the prison, playing in the walled governor's garden and making friends with the prisoners through open windows.
Rough Music typifies Gale's work: it has an intricate plot which keeps the reader guessing to the end; it portrays the complexity of family relationships in a tender way; and it evokes the wild beauty of the Cornish coast through beautiful prose.
The story has two threads to it. The first is set in the 1960s: John is a prison governor, who takes his wife, Frances and thir son, Julian on holiday to stay at a Cornish holiday cottage called Beachcomber. Soon after they arrive two things happen; John's glamorous American brother-in-law, Bill arrives with his tomboy daughter, Skip - and one of the dangerous inmates of John's prison escapes. The traumatic repercussions that these two events have on the family structure form the basis of the story - mainly described through Julian's eyes, as his self-centred childish pleasure in his holiday is gradually eroded by the adult emotions taking place around him.
Frances, although she loves John, is attracted to the unfettered freedom that Bill has to offer, and compares this to the awkward politeness of her own marriage and its sexual failures. Skip is locked into her tomboy lifestyle by the expectations of her father; desperate to win his approval, she hides her desire to become more feminine and the worries that she has about her developing body. Julian is gradually losing his innocence as he struggles to understand the confused feelings that he has about his sexuality. Like Frances, he finds Bill physically attractive, and like Skip, he is desperate to win Bill's approval.
The second thread is set in the present day, and the similarities to the 1960s story keeps the reader guessing to the very end of the book. Will is a gay man in his 30s, who receives a holiday in Cornwall as a birthday present from his sister Poppy. Staying in a Cornish cottage called Blue House, he takes various members of his family with him: his mother, Frances, who suffers from Alzheimer's; his father, John, a retired prison governor; his brother-in-law, Sandy; and Sandy's two small children.
Again, it is the complex family relationships that form the centre of this thread of the story. Will and Sandy have been having a secret affair for years, and Will struggles with his sense of guilt and the betrayal of his sister. John is terrified of the rapid decline into dementia that he sees in Frances, and tries to keep his love and devotion strong so that he can continue to care for her.
Both threads of the story come together at the end of the book, in a traumatic climax that will shake the reader. It is the way that Patrick Gale manages to make a connection to each of the characters that gives him the power to shock.
I loved this book for so many different reasons. The way in which Gale describes the smells and the sounds of the sea, and takes you back to every childhood holiday that you remember is amazing. There are no long, lyrical paragraphs, but descriptions of the feeling of salt drying on sun-baked skin, the smell of seaweed, the sounds of crashing waves, are woven through the story so that you hardly notice them, but at the same time feel that you are experiencing it yourself.
The slow decline of the older Frances into dementia, I found truly moving. Both she and John know the horrors that lie ahead for them; she realises that she has "episodes" and lapses of memory, and that she will eventually cease to exist in her present sense. He understands perfectly that his future lies with an incontinent, possibly violent stranger, who will take the place of the woman he loves. The skill with which Patrick Gale describes this, and the way in which the rest of the family try to cope with the situation is amazing. My father had Alzheimer's for many years, and I found the whole story completely authentic.
Much of the story is based on Gale's own experiences, which he acknowledges at the back of the book. The story line about the escaped prisoner is based on Ronnie Biggs, who escaped from Wandsworth whilst Gale's father was prison governor. The descriptions of a childhood growing up inside prison walls is taken from Gale's own childhood.
I have now read this book twice, over the years - and each time have found it impossible to put down. It will make you cry and it will make you think about your own future and past. If you have not read any Patrick Gale before, I thoroughly recommend this as a first dip into the water!
Some reviews have spoilers which reveal the mystery of the interwoven stories, so if you want to keep guessing read the book before the reviews!
Rough Music was written in 2000. 374 pages. ISBN 000655220X
To be perfectly honest I bought this book because I liked the cover, it looked relaxing and I personally wanted a break from books like Orwell's 1984 that I had been reading. When I started reading I wondered where exactly the story was heading but I was pleasantly suprised. The book is made up of the life of the central character of Will/Julian and his life as a small boy and when he's a 30 year old man. There is very little room for confusion even though his name does change, as the chapters are named either Blue House or Beachcomber, depending on what time the particular chapter is taking place. In both time scales our central character goes on holiday to Cornwall and although this may seem a rather dull idea, the actions and discoveries that take place are incredibly engaging. The characters are incredibly engaging, particularly those of Will and his parents. These three characters are superb and manage to make you laugh and cry and that really is the nature of the book. I found no definite aim of this book, it is neither comedy or tragic but both. However, the most striking aspect of this book is Gale's use of language. His wonderful descriptions of each environment is fascinating and you can't help but be taken in by his vivid accounts. The only downside I could find to this novel, and something I didn't really find a problem with, is that it is not particularly exciting. If you are looking for real action then you won't find very much in here as it does move at a fairly slow pace. However, I found that this slow pace suits the novel itself and was still a compulsive read. This novel seems to have managed to not fall into any catergory which has to be a good thing. It's romantic without being slushy, it's funny without being a farce and it's tragic without being depressing. I defy anyone to be bored or disappointed with this novel.
Interlacing two narratives separated by 30 years, Gale traces the history of the Pagett family at Beachcomber, a Cornish holiday cottage, until the stories marry up and relationships fissure.