Book Review for “Gentleman’s Relish: Stories” by Patrick Gale.
Summary: “A son wreaks revenge through the power of cookery, a lonely wife finds short-lived solace in angling lessons from a prisoner, and an obedience lesson with a puppy leads to the discovery of a murder… From the delightfully chilling to the humorous and heart-warming, this exhilarating collection of stories illuminates experiences both common and uncommon, and is full of the same wit, tenderness and sharp psychological observation as Patrick Gale’s much-loved novels.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Fiction; Settings: Historical, Contemporary, England/Britain; Other Categories: Short Stories, Collection, LGBTQIA+, Speculative, Paranormal, Mystery, Diverse Authors.
I think my readers already know that I’m a fan of Gale’s writing, but until now, I’ve never read any of his short stories. Again, having found this on my shelves when packing up for our recent move, I decided it was time to dig in and see if Gale’s prowess with the long form novel, translated to the short story format. This collection (apparently his second), includes 16 previously published pieces, which are:
- The Lesson
- Fourth of July, 1862
- Saving Space
- Petals on a Pool
- In the Camp
- The Dark Cutter
- Making Hay
- Brahms and Moonshine
- The Excursion
- Hushèd Casket
- Dream Lover
- Sleep Tight
- Gentleman’s Relish
Now, there are – essentially – two types of short stories. There are those that give you a wallop of an ending, and those that end with things unsaid that you have to think about. Usually authors will lean towards one of these two, but Gale seems to like to play around with both kinds. Furthermore, many authors stick to one genre or era for their short stories, but Gale has mixed it up here as well. For example, obviously “Fourth of July, 1862” is historical fiction, while most of his other stories feel timeless – meaning there’s no real indication about when they take place, and most feel pretty modern. This is probably because some of these stories were commissioned for certain publications, and he needed to write a particular type of story to fit the venue.
Because of this, we get quite a selection of stories, some of which seem on the absurd side, while others feel very normal, a few are downright wicket, and there is even one that’s practically paranormal. Regarding that last one, I found the story “Freedom” to be both a bit scary and pretty funny. It is about a gay couple on their honeymoon who find what seems like an antique tea-caddy that, when opened, unleashes a type of spirit that turns one of the men into a sex fiend! I have to admit that while this story was funny, in its own way, it was probably my least favorite of the bunch.
Other stories that impressed me were “Saving Space” about a man who tries to keep a seat next to him free at a concert. This story is truly poignant and reflects on what it feels like to have lost someone special. The opening story, “The Lesson” was another standout, where the wife of a prison warden gets one of her husband’s prisoners to put up some shelving in their allotted housing, and he teaches her how to fish. In addition, the titular story is the one that feels practically autobiographical, and I wonder if he used his own relationship with his father, and his understanding his sexuality, as the basis for this story. It truly feels real, and heartfelt; what is unspoken speaks volumes.
I should note that one of the most difficult things about writing a review of a collection of short stories is that it’s hard to talk about plot development without giving away too much. Furthermore, where there’s no obvious theme that connects all of these stories, one sometimes isn’t always sure why these stories were brought together into one collection. Again, this is partially the fault of why Gale wrote these stories and for whom, and has nothing to do with Gale’s talent as a story teller. Taken individually, there were only two that I wasn’t totally thrilled with (“Freedom” and “The Dark Cutter”), while all the others gave me that satisfactory feeling of a short tale, well told. I think that means I’m rating this a very respectable four and a half stars out of five, and recommending it to anyone who is looking for something a little different, that’s beautifully written, and will probably make you smile when you finish each one.
“Gentleman’s Relish: Stories” by Patrick Gale is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.