Patrick Gale is one of those novelists I have so much confidence in, that I’ll buy their latest book straight away. I don’t need a review or blurb to tell me how good it is, if it’s Patrick Gale I’m going to enjoy it. In all his work there is such a warmth and empathy for his fellow humans. There’s an emotional intelligence in his work that makes him stand out and it was so evident in this novel based in the Edwardian period. Harry Cane is an upstanding member of society, living in a beautiful home with his wife and child. Many would think he has it all and he’s certainly followed a conventional path. He’s a quiet and shy man, who loves his child, but he also has a secret. He’s having an affair. Someone though, knows about his habits and has been watching him. He is offered a choice by his brother-in-law. If he leaves the country, avoiding the shame this could bring on their family, and starts again somewhere else, his wife and child will never know. If he stays, the shameful truth will emerge. Harry has been having an affair with a man.
The novel follows Harry on his way to Canada where he secures a ‘claim’ in a place called Winter. On his journey there he meets a man, villainous yet strangely magnetic, who will prove important in this new life. Leading to acts of cruelty, but also leading to his eventual happiness within a very unconventional family. I found my heart was inextricably bound up with Harry from an early stage of the novel. His relationship with his wife wasn’t passionate, but it was loving. I wondered if he’d spoken to her sooner, explained his true feelings, she might have listened. He married his best friend’s sister, so when he is discovered and threatened by his brother-in- law, there is an anger about their lost friendship too. I was gutted by him losing his daughter more than anything. In Canada, life is bleak and hard. For a man who has never worked hard or excelled at anything I wondered if he would be able to succeed. The work is back breaking, but Harry finds reserves of strength he didn’t know he had. He can cope with adversity, loneliness, war and even the brink of madness. I loved the arc of his self-knowledge; he leaves England believing himself a monster, but finds that he’s willing to fight to be loved. He knows he deserves it.
The historical context and sense of place are beautifully observed. We even see how the Cree are affected by the pioneers and the development of open prairie into farms. The love story is touching and I was rooting for them to find a way to be together, however unconventional. Patrick Gale always writes from a place of empathy and compassion for his characters and this book is no exception. This is a geographical journey, but also one of self-discovery. The title refers directly to a place, but also to a place where we live in isolation, without that one person who can mitigate the harshness of life. I felt like I lived alongside Harry, for every part of his journey. At the end I felt sad, but also like I’d experienced something real. That Harry’s life was like all human lives a combination of happiness, contentment, cruelty and loss. The author has written a novel here, that captures what it means to be human.
Meet The Author
Patrick Gale was born on the Isle of Wight in 1962. He spent his infancy at Wandsworth Prison, which his father governed, then grew up in Winchester. He now lives on a farm near Land’s End. He’s a passionate gardener, cook, and cellist and chairs the North Cornwall Book Festival each October. His sixteen novels include the Costa-shortlisted A Place Called Winter, A Perfectly Good Man and Notes From an Exhibition – both of which were Richard and Judy Bookclub selections – The Whole Day Through and Rough Music. His latest, Take Nothing With You is a tale of teenage obsession, sexuality, betrayal and music-making. You can find out more on his website http://www.galewarning.org.