Book Review for “Mother’s Boy” by Patrick Gale.
Summary: “Laura, an impoverished Cornish girl, meets her husband when they are both in service in Teignmouth in 1916. They have a baby, Charles, but Laura’s husband returns home from the trenches a damaged man, already ill with the tuberculosis that will soon leave her a widow. In a small, class-obsessed town she raises her boy alone, working as a laundress, and gradually becomes aware that he is some kind of genius. As an intensely privately young man, Charles signs up for the navy with the new rank of coder. His escape from the tight, gossipy confines of Launceston to the colour and violence of war sees him blossom as he experiences not only the possibility of death, but the constant danger of a love that is as clandestine as his work.“
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Fiction; Settings: Historical, England – Cornwall (mostly); Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, LGBTQIA+, #OwnVoices.
Being American, I didn’t know who Charles Causley was when I bought this novel, but I knew it couldn’t be bad if it was written by Patrick Gale, since he’s one of my favorite authors. However, soon after I ordered it, I realized that Causley is considered to be one of Cornwall’s favorite poets, and I’m sure that all of my British friends will be appalled at the hole in my poetry education. Yes, I know, I don’t review books of poetry on this blog, but in my naïve youth, I thought I wanted to be a poet, and my regular readers know that I’ve had some of my poems published, almost all of which I’ve also posted here on this blog. But while I have received some praise for my poetry, I really feel that my poems aren’t of a quality that would make me a good critic. Anyway, I don’t have the patience to read whole books of poetry these days, so there’s that as well.
My ignorance aside, let’s get back to this novel. In addition to the above, Goodreads also says that “MOTHER’S BOY is the story of a man who is among, yet apart from his fellows, in thrall to, yet at a distance from his own mother; a man being shaped for a long, remarkable, and revered life spent hiding in plain sight. But it is equally the story of the dauntless mother who will continue to shield him long after the dangers of war are past.” Well, obviously, since Causley was gay, we get the reason why he was “among, yet apart from his fellows” back in the mid-20th century. And being an only child after his mother became a young widow, certainly would lend itself for a close, yet sometimes troubled, relationship between them. If nothing else, what comes shining through in this novel is a lovely, gentle tribute to Causley’s life, and apparently that’s no less than what he deserved.
Gale begins this novel with a scene from when Causley was working as a coder on a ship during WWII, and then reverts back to his mother Laura, to the time when she first meets Charlie – Charles’ father. He then forms the rest of this novel chronologically, taking us through to 1948. Each chapter highlights one event in a certain year, switching between Laura and Charles, as we move through their shared and separate lives. One thing I found particularly interesting was when US troops came to England, and there was a group of black soldiers among them, we could see the blatant racism and segregation. Gale shows Laura to be far more tolerant towards them than their fellow white soldiers. Gale also makes Laura quite generous and accepting of the German POWs, who were put to work in the area during their imprisonment. While I’m sure these encounters were mostly invented by Gale, they were very poignant, and together with all the things she was and did, made me really sympathetic towards Laura.
In fact, if I think about this novel overall, I have to say that I felt quite a bit more empathy for Laura than I did for Charles. Now, that may be because I’m a mother myself, but I’m not sure if that was the only reason. The thing is, while I liked Charles a whole lot, I felt a bit distanced from him in this book. Maybe Gale admires Causley so much that he was careful to be as respectful of him as possible, and that made him take a step back from him as a character. On the other hand, maybe the fact that Gale ended the story soon after the war, and much of what happened to Charles during the war wasn’t as well documented, could have lent itself to my feeling that Gale held something back when telling his story. either way, this is still an excellent novel, and I warmly recommend it, and can comfortably give it a highly respectable four and a half stars out of five.
Tinder Press – Hachette Group released “Mother’s Boy” by Patrick Gale on March 1, 2022 (in the UK, but will only come out in October in the US). This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.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.