Take Nothing With You ~ Patrick Gale

Having begun to settle into my new market town life I have been casting around for ways of getting to know like-minded people.  Because of my U3A connections I already have a number of good friends here but they are all of a certain age and I would like to widen my scope of acquaintance.  So, I trotted down to the local library last week and suggested that they might want to host a new book group, not one where we all read the same book (I already belong to two of those) but one like my first ever group where we came together once a month to talk about whatever we had read since the last meeting and swap ideas for future reads.  It’s a format that works well because no one is under pressure to have read a particular text and it is possible to come along even if you’ve had a nightmare month and read nothing yet still get something out of the evening.

I was reminded of that earlier group as I began Patrick Gale’s latest novel, Take Nothing With You, because it was there that I was first introduced to Gale’s work and because of them that I became a devoted reader.  I thought his last book, A Place Called Winter, was his best yet and so came to the new work with some trepidation.  I should not have worried. Every now and again you come across a book that absorbs you in the way that butter absorbs a hot knife.  The reading act is no effort at all, engagement is complete and ultimately the only sorrow is that the book is over.  Take Nothing With You is such a book.

When we first meet Eustace he is battling both with his health and with his conscience: his health because he has been diagnosed with cancer of the thyroid and his conscience because he hasn’t told Theo, his new long distance partner, about his condition.  As a final element of his treatment Eustace must swallow a radioactive capsule and then spend a couple of days, first in a lead-lined room and then avoiding anyone who might be vulnerable to his still radioactive self.  Told to bring nothing with him that he won’t mind leaving behind, he is given a cheap MP3 player by his close friend, Naomi, of music for the cello, the instrument that brought them together in the first place.  Incarcerated in his hospital ‘cell’ Eustace goes back in his mind to the time when he was first introduced to the cello, to his sensitive teacher, Carla Gold, and through her and her friends to an understanding of his own ‘otherness’.

As a study of a teenage boy coming to terms with his sexuality and finding his place in the often treacherous world of school and burgeoning adulthood this is pitch perfect.  In part this is because much of what Eustace experiences is based on Gale’s own background.  Although the setting of 1970s Weston-Super-Mare is different, Gale, like Eustace, was brought up in close proximity to what might be called an institution, in the author’s case his father was a prison governor, while Eustace’s parents run a home for old people.  Like Eustace, Gale took up the cello and also studied with one of the foremost teachers of the day only to discover that a career as a professional musician was not going to materialise.  (I am giving nothing away here; it is apparent from the beginning that this isn’t the route that Eustace has followed.)  In fact, Eustace’s path through adolescence and to his eventual acceptance of his sexuality is, with one horrendous exception, relatively easy, given that no teenager’s journey to adulthood is ever a bed of roses.  For the adults in his life, however, brought up in a far less permissive age, their enforced exploration of their own sexual identity is more tortuous and ultimately disastrous.  If I wept for anyone in this novel it wasn’t for Eustace and his generation but for that of his parents, bound by the mores of a society that still condemned anything other than the sexual ‘norm’ and compelled not only to deny their true identity but to see themselves as somehow defective.

Is this as good a novel as A Place called Winter? It perhaps doesn’t raise as many issues, cover as much ground.  However, as a piece of writing it is, for me, almost perfection.  I can’t remember the last time I was so absorbed in a book and so invested in the characters.  Interestingly, I don’t think I would propose it as a book group read.  I’m not sure it is a book that would benefit from close dissection.  But, if the new recommendation based group gets going then it will be the first suggestion I shall offer in the hope that I can introduce other readers to Gale’s work in the same way that I was introduced twenty or so years ago.


14 thoughts on “Take Nothing With You ~ Patrick Gale

  1. A Life in Books September 29, 2018 / 8:52 am

    I’ve been a Gale fan for many years now but I’ve yet to read this one. Your last paragraph has whetted my appetite further. Very taken with the idea of a reading group devoted to exchanging reading notes.


    • Café Society September 29, 2018 / 4:24 pm

      I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did Susan. I just curled up with it last Sunday and read it in one sitting. As for the Reading Group, I hope it takes off. The local newspaper is coming to take photos on Wednesday to run in their next edition. I am so unphotogenic that it may well put everyone off.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Liz September 29, 2018 / 9:53 am

    Like you, I love Gale’s writing and A Place Called Winter is stunning. I have TNWY on order from the library, so am really pleased to hear that you enjoyed it so much.


    • Café Society September 29, 2018 / 4:25 pm

      I think it’s a book you will really enjoy, Liz. One of the great things about blogging is that you get to know what your friends enjoy and I think this is just right for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Liz October 2, 2018 / 5:47 pm

        What a lovely reply, thank you! And as a result, I have decided to treat myself to my own copy – I’m currently putting together a reading list for the 24hour readathon on 20/10 – this will be a great addition. 🙂 x


  3. Margaret September 29, 2018 / 1:40 pm

    You will be pleased to know that I am currently reading A Perfectly Good Man! At long last.

    My local book group is trying out having meetings when we each talk about a book we’ve read recently (starting in Oct) alternating with meetings when we all read and discuss the same book. Some members are doubtful about it as they think the meeting will get too long and they like us all to discuss the same book. We want to try it as some people have left the group because they say they read slowly and can’t fit in the book group choice as well as reading their own books. You can’t please all the people all the time!


    • Café Society September 29, 2018 / 4:28 pm

      I am delighted, Margaret! This is a book I am sure you would love as well. As for the Reading Group, it does need a strong hand at the helm to ensure that people don’t hog the available time, but then that can be true of a discussion meeting too. I’ve also found that discussion takes place in a recommendation group as more and more members read what has been brought up at earlier meetings. You do have to be very strict about spoilers.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Cathy746books September 29, 2018 / 7:43 pm

    I have never read Gale but for some reason he’s been popping up everywhere this summer. I think it’s a sign that I’m missing out!


    • Café Society September 29, 2018 / 7:45 pm

      It surely is, Cathy. I would recommend either this or Notes From An Exhibition as good places to start.


      • Cathy746books September 29, 2018 / 7:48 pm

        Excellent. Thanks for the pointers.


  5. Lisa September 30, 2018 / 10:44 pm

    Our libraries don’t have many of his books, including this one, but they do have A Place Called Winter, which I have put on reserve.


    • Café Society October 1, 2018 / 6:05 am

      Take Nothing With You has only just come out, Lisa, so they may have it on order. I hope you enjoy A Place Called Winter as much as I did.


  6. Annabel (AnnaBookBel) October 4, 2018 / 8:45 pm

    This was the first Gale I’ve read, and it won’t be the last – I loved it, so glad to have finally read something by him. I thought he caught the way that musicians get caught up in making music together particularly well too.


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