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The Whole Day Through - Patrick Gale
Member Name: dee778
The Whole Day Through - Patrick Gale
Advantages: Patrick Gale is a good writer, even though this is not one of his best
Disadvantages: Dull, plodding contrived plot and shallow characters
I found this to be the least enjoyable of Patrick Gales' books to date. It contained none of the atmospheric and evocative descriptions of Cornwall that I love, the plot was over simplified, and many of the characters lacked depth. More than anything, I felt that it lacked the wit and humour of previous books.
Set in Winchester, the title of the book reflects the plot, which is set around the events of one single day, and the chance meeting of two ex-lovers.
Laura is in her forties, and after university has led a successful and rather bohemian life in Paris. She returns to Winchester to look after her elderly mother, an academic and a naturist who is physically frail but mentally as sharp as she has ever been. Ben is a very successful doctor who abruptly quits his consultant's job in London to look after his adult brother Bobby, who has Down's Syndrome, is gay and also lives in Winchester.
Laura and Ben had a very intense relationship at university, and a chance meeting in the hospital rekindles their romance. Misunderstandings, domestic responsibilities and ghosts of the past all serve to get in the way of True Love. The most important of these is Ben's wife, who is unaware that she is no longer loved and seems to be unsure that Ben has even left her. Ben himself does not seem very clear on the matter either !
Described as "a bittersweet romance", the story has a typical Gale-esque twist at the end which will probably take the reader by surprise, but first you will have to plough your way through a lot of memories and scene setting that seem to have little relevance to the romance.
I felt that the first half of the book took too long to rather clumsily set the scene, looking back to the youth of the two main characters, and examining the challenges that they have had to face over the past 20 years. The reader gets no sense of the setting; there are no detailed descriptions of Winchester and its surroundings, and Gale misses the opportunity to impress the reader with the prose that makes his previous novels special. The plot is, quite frankly, dull and there is no obvious climax to the story that I could recognise.
I failed to engage with any of the main characters, and felt that this was because of the detailed but unemotional descriptions of their past lives. The connection of current emotion was never visible to the reader. The problems that Laura and Ben had to deal with were thrust in the readers face from the first page, rather than evolving as surprising discoveries, as Gale did marvellously in 'A Sweet Obsession'. Descriptions of the naturist lifestyle were interesting, but somewhat irrelevant to the story, and although the creation of a gay Down's Sydrome character had a lot of promise, Bobby's character was never developed enough to live up to its potential. Equally, the character of Laura's mother (rather irritatingly called 'Mummy' throughout the book) was underdeveloped. Gale missed the opportunity to examine the torture of a very fine academic mind trapped in a failing body - instead making Mummy a cold character, who cared very little for family or friends, but never explained why. Mummy's naturism could have made her an humorous, witty and endearing character, but all of these opportunities were missed.
Only at the very end of the book does Gale show signs of the writer his fans love, and the quality of writing we have come to expect. As Laura walks the street of Winchester at dusk, I suddenly found that the prose began to flow, that I had empathy for Laura, and I looked forward to reading more. Just as I began to engage with the whole story, I turned the page ... to find the book had come to a rather abrupt end.
I was left with a feeling of disappointment. It looks as if Gale churned this one out to make a quick buck, rather than making it a work of love.
Summary: If you haven't read any Patrick Gale, don't make this your first try!