….If music be the food of love, play on
Patrick Gale is a wonderful writer, and an even more wonderful teller of a story. This might seem a strange comment; except that, curiously, it can at times feel as if the skill of crafting words well, and the skills of creating strong narrative, with complex, believable characters – and, moreover, ones whom the reader will be intrigued by, involved with – can be hard to find joined in one individual.
Thankfully Gale makes all this seem remarkably simple, effortless, even. Reading him, I am rarely lost in amazed awe at beautiful turns of descriptive prose. It is only on putting down his books, thinking about what I have been reading, that realisation of his skills strike.
The central character of this one, Eustace, grabs from the off – how could a reader fail to want to know more after this beginning :
At an age when he was reassured that life was unlikely to surprise him further, Eustace found, in rapid succession, that he was quite possibly dying and that he was falling in love for the third time.
The true significance of his falling-in-loves will reveal over time
The book employs (seamlessly, clearly) a dual time narration
Avoiding spoilers, as this is revealed early : at the book opening Eustace is in hospital, in the present day, about to undergo treatments with radioactive iodine following a thyroidectomy. Interweaved with the isolation of his treatment comes the story of his adolescence, back in the 60s and 70s. Trigger for memory is listening to a compilation of classical music pieces for the cello, put together by a friend. Both Eustace and the friend were young cellists, potential prodigies. This is a story of a life, in many ways, made meaningful by music.
This is a book which will be a particular delight for those who love classical music, and know the referenced pieces, though, reading other reviews from those who do not fall into that category, I can confidently assert this will still be a mesmerising, immersive, wonderful read. Who knows, it may even lead some to want to listen to chamber music.
Gale himself is clearly thoroughly immersed in, and in love with, this kind of music – and a lovely little coda to the book yields the information that writing this, he was moved to begin playing the cello again.
Steven Isserlis again, here joyous with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, and Haydn
I really did not want this to end. But there were also times when I could not bear to read on, as clever Gale, with subtle mounting ‘something is not quite right here’ tension – which worked with the reader half a step ahead of the central character having the same realisation – meant I had to put the book down. I could not read further, so anxious did I feel..,yet of course I had to
Strongly recommended. It is magic. As was his last book, and I guess, as will be the one he is hopefully engaged in writing at the moment
I received this as a review copy from Amazon Vine UK, jumping at the opportunity when it was offered