English Love Picture
The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale is an extremely well written love story. It is so well written that at times the gentle gradients of its landscape remind one of being driven through Holland. An occasional abyss or ravine would be welcome.
Laura used to be Lara. She inserted the ‘u’ because of the regular ribbings at school over Doctor Zhivago. It was clearly that sort of school. Mummy and daddy were pretty accomplished people, mum eventually a professor of virology. Daddy, poor daddy, never made it above a lectureship in social sciences – or something – in a poly. These are now all called universities, but we all know that the class labels still attach. They were a naturist family and took their clothes off at every opportunity. Daddy died. Daddies do. Mummy is now in need of assistance, even when naked in the garden, which these days is well walled.
Laura did not manage maths at Oxford, poor thing. She blew it. But being able to add up led her to a pretty good career as a freelance accountant. Ability to work at distance allowed her to spend a good deal of her time in Paris. There were relationships. None endured. Well, they all did, and then didn’t. She is now back with mummy.
Ben was one of Laura’s old flames. He too was into viruses and once met Laura’s mom in a professional capacity. He now works with sexually transmitted diseases. He moved on from Laura and married Chloë, who has a funny thing on the end of her name. Things have not gone well of late. The marriage is suffering something of a lull.
So, after many a year Ben and Laura’s paths cross again. Their encounter lasts a day and promises to endure. But Ben has his own responsibilities. Bobby is his disabled brother and he needs support. He seems able to look after himself on the gay pick-up scene, however, and manages to put himself about quite a bit. Treatments are available in-house, after all.
Between them, these characters build up understandings and misunderstandings, but there is very little to surprise. At least non-one seems to have a food fad.
The book is an easy and enjoyable read, but somehow the people never really come alive. Patrick Gale tells us about their pasts, their families, their relationships, occasionally their fears or achievements, but somehow the sensation is reminiscent of pieces being pushed around a draughts board. It is certainly not as sophisticated as chess, and the moves seem, well, predictable.
And that is the problem. These people ooze an under-stated middle class confidence, but they come across as smug, uninteresting and rather self-satisfied. Endearing they are not. They do elegantly populate a story, but their passions are so terribly English. We might pass time of day, but do not expect any part of the experience to offer anything memorable. Perhaps that’s the point.
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