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This review has been posted on Waterstones.com This is the first Patrick Gale book that I have read and I have enjoyed it very much indeed. The ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ are in fact the chapter headings, each one a note for an item in a retrospective exhibition relating to the life and work of the main character, artist Rachel Kelly. Each chapter relates to an episode from her life, either from Rachel’s point of view or from a member of her family. The story does not unravel chronologically, but skips backwards and forwards in time, slowly revealing the personality and mystery of the woman. The reader learns how Rachel has dealt with bipolar disorder and how her life-long illness has also effected the life of those closest to her. The beauty of the book is that it shows that her illness should not be viewed as debilitating, and reinforces the fact that people with bipolar disorder can and do have very productive lives that are filled with much love and happiness. I feel this book really does help to promote an understanding of such illness, and that would definitely be a strong recommendation for it. I grew fond of all the characters and was particularly impressed with the way that Gale was able to reflect the difference in all the personalities with each chapter. For instance the chapter dealing with the visit of two of the children with their father to their mother in hospital, from the point of view of her oldest son Garfield, was written so tenderly I really felt that it was being narrated by the young boy. The emotions of the child felt so real – I found it very moving indeed. Very highly recommended, a book to savour!
There are currently only 2 Patrick Gale books available in the United States, out of a total of 16 books. I hope very much that his other books make their way over the pond because he is really quite a writer. The book takes place at the turn of the last century. Harry Cane is the older of two sons from a very affluent family. Both parents die young and so the boys very much depend on each other. They marry sisters and are adopted wholesale by the family of the sisters. Harry doesn't have mistresses, but he does have homosexual love affairs and behaves very stupidly in one of them, leaving a written record of the liaison. He has also made some errors with money, although they were at the behest of one of his wife's brothers, who seemed very level-headed. The money problems provide a cover to avoid scandal by emigrating to Canada to be part of Canada's great western expansion, deciding to obtain a homestead through the Dominion Lands. He has never worked before, much less farmed, but after a year "interning" with a farm family, he finds that he's good at it and off he goes. He finds very congenial people where he settles, but also runs into a terrible man, who keeps turning up like a bad penny to create havoc. Harry has terribly sad moments of loss, both of affection, when his family turns their back on him, and then deaths in war and from the flu epidemic after the war. But there was hope in the end, which was satisfying. This book was enormously engaging. I could not wait to get back to it when I was drawn away. I felt as if I could see every person and the various places and sympathized good and bad with every feeling that Harry seemed to experience. It has been called "Canada's 'Brokeback Mountain' " and that occurred to me, too. I thought "Brokeback Mountain" was very good and saw why people would make that analogy, but this is really a very different story. Apparently, Patrick Gale has borrowed from his own family history, but I don't know by how much. It's not particularly important to know that, but it's interesting, so I mention it. Thank you Viccie, for recommending Patrick Gale.
I don't understand why Patrick Gale isn't better known. His novels have been coming out from the 80's, pretty everyone I know who has read one of his books then starts looking for his backlist, he gets brilliant reviews, he's gay (which isn't relevant in the big picture) but even one of the judges for the Green Carnation Prize (for LGBT fiction) admitted in a blog post that he'd never read Patrick Gale. Why is a writer who is that talented so low on the radar? Beats me, because he's terrifically readable. But then I admit I only started reading him about three years ago and I'd been vaguely hearing about him for years as a good writer but had never had the urge to pick one of his books up. In A Sweet Obscurity, written in 2003, Eliza was seeking refuge from her upbringing in academia until her life is derailed by having to become "mother" to her dead sister's baby Dido and has devoted the last few years to protecting Dido from harm and giving her a settled, happy childhood, Giles her ex-husband, controlling, manipulative, escaping his own demons, minds more about losing Dido than his wife, Julia, his current lover, is also fleeing her upbringing. In Cornwall, Pearce, a farmer, has been pushed into a life he doesn't want through circumstance. In many ways Dido is the most mature and determined of all the characters. For me this isn't the best of Patrick Gale's books, the story meanders, there are a few too many co-incidences and neat tyings up of loose ends. That said it was a compulsive read, I was carrying it around so I could snatch another page, the characters are utterly believable, if not always likeable, his writing style is wonderfully smooth and above all he's a wonderful storyteller. To get the Patrick Gale habit I'd suggest starting off Rough Music or Notes From An Exhibition but this one, while not his best, is up against a high benchmark, and is still a darn good read.
It must be admitted that the title of Patrick Gale's first novel, published in 1986, is weird, perhaps even to the point of being offputting. But the clue to its intepretation would appear to lie in the proverbial "pigs might fly" - which is generally used to imply that what is theoretically possible is, in a pragmatic world, extremely unlikely. And that we should all be getting on with "real life" instead of speculating and dreaming. But Patrick Gale would appear to be suggesting here that such idle musing is precisely what makes life worth living... This short first novel consists of two intertwined narratives. One, set in Cornwall, revolves around the precociously gifted children of bohemian Evelyn: the fifteen-year-old musical prodigy Seth and his elder sister Venetia, a Cambridge undergraduate. The other, set in London, centres on Mo, a heartily bluff lesbian policewoman. As such, The Aerodynamics of Pork lays the groundwork for the multiple narratives in Patrick Gale's subsequent work. This time the narratives are tentatively linked from the beginning, when Mo witnesses Evelyn as the unwitting victim of a pickpocket, through various common features (such as kippers...) to the imminent interaction of the characters in the final section, corresponding to the birthdays of both Seth and Mo. The novel is a clever study in subversion and subterfuge. The echoes are discreet and varied, but the most obvious parallel is that between two incipient gay relationships: Mo and Hope in London, and Seth and Roly on the Cornish coast. These are set against the background of other problematic relationships, most notably that between Evelyn and her mysteriously absent husband, Huw. If this is an "apprentice work", then it is quite clearly a very good one for a writer then only in his mid-twenties. It looks forward to the emotional complexities of Patrick Gale's later fiction, most notably the wonderful Rough Music, in which Roly reappears (without Seth). Patrick Gale is a strangely underrated writer, and one who deserves come to greater prominence.