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Mother's Boy by Patrick Gale - Review

Monday, July 10, 2023

You might know that I absolutely love Patrick Gale. I've read quite a few of his books and my favourite is Notes From An Exhibition. That might actually my favourite book of all time, if I had to choose (although I might choose Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which I think Patrick would also approve of). I've read a few over the years. I picked this one up in Rhyme & Reason books in Sheffield on Good Friday. I went in to pick up something they had ordered for me and came out with three books alongside that one!

This one is a fictionalisation of the life of the poet Charles Causley. I had only vaguely heard of him so went into this pretty blind. I liked knowing that parts of it were true, and liked the bits that I later read were fictional, but with Patrick's explanation of why. I am willing to believe the entirety of it! I tweeted when I started this book that starting any Patrick Gale novel is always a comfort. It's like he wraps you in a blanket and says "Okay, now I'll begin". I read thirty pages straight off because I was already invested. The book did take me nearly a week to finish, but that's because I was on holiday!

The book starts with Laura, who is working in service in Teignmouth in the ealry 1910s. She likes her job but finds it exhausting. She meets Charlie by chance one day, and the two start a courtship and eventually get married. Charlie is away at war when his son, Charles, is born, and when he comes back he is ill from the war and dies of TB when Charles is just five years old. Laura and her son live in Launceston, where Laura works as a washer woman, taking in laundry from others in the neighbourhood, including that of the local brothel, which is run by her friend Agnes, who is really her only friend. Laura does this job for the rest of her working life. 

Charles, meanwhile, is a quiet, bookish type. He is bullied by the butcher's son, Joe, but then the two become friends. He also has a friend called Ginger, who, when they are around seventeen, introduces him to cruising with other men at a local lido. Charles joins the navy when World War Two breaks out, and becomes a coder, a new role that involves decoding and giving messages on board ships. The book actually starts with an explosion on a boat nearby, where Charles learns that some of his friends have been killed. These friends include Cushty, with whom Charles has a physical relationship.

Charles never married and often spoke about how "it was all there in the poems", which Patrick explains at the end of the book. I will say that reading some of the poems I can see how the argument could be made that he was gay; I think it is drawn very well and in a very real way for the time period. I loved how Charles' foreign service was included with his private life. 

Patrick also says that he was worried about what Laura would be doing during the war - there seems to be little historical record, unlike Charles' diaries, which Patrick made us of - but then read about what was happening in Launceston at the time and gave Laura storylines here. I loved these parts - Laura is an intriguing woman, and I do love to read about what "ordinary" people were doing in times of war. 

I'm giving this five out of five as I really liked it, I am lending it to my friend Sarah too! 

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