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[personal profile] alobear
Patrick Gale was the keynote speaker at last weekend's Winchester Writers' Festival, so I thought I'd give one of his novels a go before attending. I have a feeling I might have read at least one before, but Rough Music sounded both unfamiliar and intriguing, so I chose that.

It's beautifully written, with very real and complex characters. It tells the story of two holidays taken by the same family - one in the late 1960s and one in the late 1990s - at the same cottage in Cornwall. The two timelines are brilliantly interwoven to add more and more depth and reveal more and more about the relationships. There are three point of view characters - the parents and the son - and Gale masterfully shows how much they do and don't understand about each other and the events of the story.

However, I did find the book very confusing and slightly irritating. It's clear from the beginning that 'something bad' happened on the holiday in the 1960s, and the whole book then builds up to revealing what that was. This can make the plotline a bit laboured in places, and detracts somewhat from the beauty of the picture being painted.

Also, the opening flits from an unnamed woman wading in water, to a man named Will in a therapy session, to a young boy named Julian anticipating a long car journey, with absolutely no clue as to how these different narratives connect. The parents - John and Frances - are clearly the same in both timelines, but the confusion over Will and Julian had me scratching my head (in an annoyed rather than intrigued way) until very near the end.

It all starts to come together in the last 50 pages, but parts of the conclusion undermined the credibility of what had come before by being rather ridiculous.

Still, there's an impressive and emotive portrayal of Frances' deteriorating mental state, the exploration of suppressed desire is quite visceral in places, and the portrait of a complicated family history is very effectively rendered.

February 2019

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