Title: Mother’s Boy
Author: Patrick Gale
Publisher: Tinder Press (UK)/Hachette, March 2022; $32.99
Patrick Gale was born on the Isle of Wight and grew up in Winchester before attending Oxford University. Gale is well known and revered for his popular works of fiction with over 20 titles to his name. Gale lives in Cornwall.
This novel, set in Cornwall and spanning both WW1 and WW2, is based around the similar circumstances of the Cornish poet Charles Causley and his mother Laura.
The story begins with Laura, a poor working-class girl, who marries Charlie. They have a child before he goes off to war in 1918. He returns a changed man, becomes ill and dies, leaving Laura to raise their son, Charles. Laura works as a laundress, and this sustains their meagre village lifestyle. Of particular delight in this book is the Cornish lifestyle and the local characters.
Charles is all that Laura lives for. Charles is considered to be a boy of immense talent and Laura makes it possible for him to develop his musical skills in playing the piano. Despite their obvious closeness, as Charles matures, he remains distant and secretive toward his doting mother. He is always polite but subtly withholds from her.
Joining the navy in 1941 marks a turning point for Charles. He establishes himself and earns a rank as a coder. This world, far removed from his Cornish village and his adoring mother, allows Charles to explore and take risks with his sexuality and to search for love in his own way. It is a harsh and dangerous time as he becomes closer to the war front and experiences the death of navy personnel and friends.
The story turns full circle when Charles eventually returns to his village in Cornwall where he once again resumes living with, by now, his elderly mother. She knows nothing of Charles’ personal life in the navy and is simply satisfied just to have her son back home. Charles carries a life within that can never be shared with Laura and she never intrudes. At times Charles seems aloof. Or is it a manifestation of wanting to protect his mother from a truth that he feels is too complex for her to comprehend or accept?
Mother’s Boy is a story about challenges, identity, sexuality and the hardship of class and societal expectations within a small community. And it’s a story about the love a parent has for her child and the fierceness of strong mothering.
Patrick Gale is a master storyteller. His ability allows the reader to experience a closeness with the characters, their sadness, and small joys along the way. This is a historical novel that’s engaging and full to the brim with substance.
Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche
Ballarat Writers Book Review Group 2022
Review copy provided by the publisher