This is the ninth Patrick Gale book I have read, taking him up to number 7 on my most read authors list from the twenty years I have been keeping records. Our relationship has not always been rosy. I really didn’t like “The Aerodynamics Of Pork” (1986) and it was only from his 1996 “Facts Of Life” (perhaps still my favourite) that he really began to win me over and I could see he had the potential to become one of Britain’s best novelists. From then on, both “Rough Music” and his last novel “A Perfectly Good Man” confirmed that for me and this makes two in a row for him now as this is well up there amongst his best.
It is a bit of a departure for Gale- set largely in Canada in the years preceding to just after World War I. Harry Cane is a well-off Englishman who has never had to work but when he suffers financial losses and a scandal threatens his family’s standing he sets off to Canada, seduced by posters suggesting he could make his fortune. En-route he is befriended by Troels Munck, who with questionable motives finds Harry a way to set up his own homestead in newly allocated land. In a primitive existence Harry has to battle with both the elements and his own sexuality.
For this novel Gale took as his inspiration his own ancestors finding his grandmother’s handwritten memoir and filling in the gaps about her own father and these gaps have been filled in beautifully.
Harry, thrust into manual work seems to view the world and his place in it with a detachment which leads to mental health issues. The tensions of setting up his farm, family tragedy and the effects of the war itself have a part to play as does society’s inability to let him be the man he wants to be. This book will no doubt be compared to “Brokeback Mountain” but plot-wise this is more satisfying. I might, however, have liked to have got more of the sense of Harry the farmer, attempting to establish himself on such hostile terrain – I found this was a little glossed over in placing the emphasis on his relationships and the threat of Troels Munck who has the tendency to turn up when things are beginning to go well.
The historical setting is a new one for Gale and I think he equips himself admirably. It is more focused upon one character than most of his other works but the subject matter dictates this. There is a good balance of main plot and back story. This book is making quite a few appearances on “Best of 2015” lists and has deservedly been shortlisted for Best Novel by the Costa Awards panel.
My Still to read Patrick Gale list:
- Kansas In August
- Facing The Tank
- Little Bits Of Baby
- The Cat Sanctuary
- Caesar’s Wife
- Tree Surgery For Beginners
- Friendly Fire
- The Whole Day Through
- Gentlemen’s Relish
Any suggestions which should be next?
A Place Called Winter was published in the UK in 2015 by Tinder Press