Book Review for “Take Nothing with You” by Patrick Gale.
According to the back of this book, “Eustace, an only child, is leading a strange existence in a houseful of elderly adults. His life changes dramatically with the arrival of Carla Gold, his cello teacher, who casts a heady spell over everyone, including his mother. As Eustace makes new friends through music, he also learns harsh lessons on love, survival and resilience, setting him up for life.” This summary is one of the best I’ve ever read, because this book is exactly that. It is what made us buy the book (okay, so we bought it because… Hello? Patrick Gale, people!), and I’m so glad that I don’t have to re-invent the wheel to summarize this novel.
Let me get one thing out of the way – I absolutely hate the cello. Yes, sorry Mr. Gale. That’s the honest truth. Blame it on my father who made me sit through a whole concert of solo cello music (probably all Bach) played by one of the world’s finest cellists – Leonard Rose. I hated every minute, and I can vividly see the performance in my mind’s eye to this day – even as I fully understood that I was watching a virtuoso. Since that time, I’ve listened to Pablo Casals, and seen Yoyo Ma in concert, all to no avail. However, the one exception is the Elgar cello concerto, and only the version performed by the late, great, Jacqueline du Pré. To this day, that is the only piece of cello music I can listen to, and only with her, because frankly, it takes my breath away. If it wasn’t for du Pré’s Elgar, I don’t think I could have read this book. Okay, I could have read it, but I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did.
On that note of honesty, I should also mention that my mother played the violin, and my brother-in-law plays the viola in a professional orchestra, and my father-in-law has been taking cello lessons over the last several years. So, when it came to the passages that talked about bowing and fingering, I understood enough of the jargon and could envision quite a bit of the action, all of which was described in such strikingly, loving detail that it was obvious that my knowledge is far inferior to Gale’s. However, if those passages fail to enthrall you, then the emotional analysis of the pieces of music that Eustace and others play in this book, will surely capture your imagination, even for works with which you are totally unfamiliar. Obviously, if you hate classical music, then maybe this isn’t the book for you. Still, I would encourage you to read this novel since it might actually get you interested in listening to some of these works. You never know!
That said, this book really isn’t just about a boy learning to play the cello; this is actually a coming-of-age story about a young man’s budding sexuality, and how he realizes that his attraction is to people of his same sex, and not the opposite one. What impressed me the most was how gently Gale approached this, and how he allowed Eustace to get to know himself in an atmosphere that – for the most part – didn’t feel judgmental. Mind you, not everyone seems to accept homosexuality in this novel, and Eustace does go through some difficulties because of his orientation. Of course, it wouldn’t have been believable if he hadn’t.
I also liked how Gale starts this novel with scenes that focus on an older Eustace, as an introduction, and then goes back to his younger periods for most of the book. Grown-up Eustace appears (I believe) only once again in the middle of the book, and then brings the novel to its conclusion. I was therefore somewhat surprised, however, that Gale decided to write this in third person. I’ve always thought that first person was a more intimate point of view; Gale, however, proves this theory of mine wrong – much like he’s done in the past with other books he’s written in third person. Obviously, there’s a knack to making the reader feel so sympathetic to a character without that character speaking directly to the reader, and Gale’s aptitude in doing so is nothing short of masterful!
Surely by now you’ve all guessed that this book cannot get any rating less than a full five stars. Once again, Gale has proven that he not only writes suggestively and eloquently, but that he can compose a story and characters with both harmony and discord, creating a glorious symphony of words and emotions. (Did I just go overboard with the musical allusions? Probably. But… Who cares!) In fact, the only thing that might be a bit confusing is the title of this novel. When you read it, you will get it right away, but it is also a bit ironic, but you’ll only fully understand the irony if you read this book. In other words – read this book!
Tinder Press released “Take Nothing with You” by Patrick Gale in 2018. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US eBooks and audiobooks, the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), Wordery or The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from an IndieBound store near you.