Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale

Patrick Gale's latest offering tells the story of Ben and Laura, lovers during their Oxford days, who are reunited when family duties bring them both to Winchester. The novel is narrated alternately by Ben and by Laura, and set during a single summer's day - a fairly audacious thing for any writer to do, given the illustrious writers who have used this device. The chapters are mainly headed by the names of drinks or meals - we move from Early Morning Tea through to Nightcap - with, at the centre, the love letter Ben writes to Laura. The plot, as well as the structure, pivots around this letter. As usual, Gale provides detailed and somewhat quirky background for his characters. Laura has returned from living in Paris to care for her aging mother, suffering from osteoporosis; Professor Jellicoe's quirk is that she is a committed naturist, gardening vigorously in the nip. Ben is a doctor specialising in genito-urinary medicine and sensitive readers should note that there is some fairly graphic description of his work; he also has a younger brother, Bobby, who is gay and has the Mosaic variant of Down's Syndrome.

There is some lovely writing in The Whole Day Through - the description of Laura's mother gardening in a sudden storm, the little detail of the sound of her hip-protecting knickers knocking together on the washing line - but overall I felt this was Patrick Gale by numbers. The alternate narration, the evident research into background, the little coincidences are all typical of his work but here they didn't add up to more than the sum of their parts. I found it hard to care much about Ben and Laura - both rather wet - and the details felt bolted on to their story. The cover looks like a picture from the Boden catalogue, and unfortunately that's a fairly good indication of what is inside.

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