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Book Review: Mother's Boy by Patrick Gale


Drew Payne

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Charles is the apple of his mother’s eye, born in Cornwall just after the end of the First World War. He becomes the focus of his mother’s life after his father dies from TB. But Charles does not want to be a “mother’s boy” and when war breaks out, he leaves his claustrophobic life in Teignmouth, enlisting in the navy as a coder.

The title of this novel has a double meaning and Patrick Gale uses both of them with skill and breadth. Charles is a boy raised as his mother’s sole outlet, the sole reason for her life, though Charles, as an adolescent, becomes aware that he is attracted to other boys, but he knows some of those boys could betray him and so much of his attraction is illegal.

This novel is set in the time between the First and Second World Wars and Gale captures the repression and social order of that time. Charles, an intelligent boy, can only stay in education until his time at grammar school ends because his mother cannot afford for him to stay any longer. Charles is also aware that his attractions are illegal, he displays a distaste for a friend who embraces his attractions, though that distaste is more driven by fear.

Joining the navy is an eye-opening experience, both professionally and emotionally. So many of his experiences affect him deeply, but he also meets other serving men who are far more comfortable with their desires and their openness pulls him along with them.

Gale captures the repression of the inter-war years but he also shows how the Second World War, with its mixing of people from all different backgrounds, brushed away so much of that repression and so many people’s lives benefited from that. His descriptions of wartime life are some of the most memorable parts of this novel.

This is Gale at the highest of his skills. He sympathetically and insightfully writes about his characters here, drawing characters that are all too recognisable, but he does not forget that he is writing about a very different time than today. It was so refreshing to read a novel set in the 1930s and 1940s where modern-day attitudes do not bleed into the narrative and characters. This reaches right through to the novel’s ending.

Here is a novel well worth the time it took to read, not a moment wasted.

Find it here on Amazon

Edited by Drew Payne

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Thank you for this book review, it does look to be a very good read. I followed the link to Amazon and found it to be very affordable, I also noticed that there is an audible sample to listen to which I found helpful. This book is now on order and I'm eagerly awaiting its delivery.

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So glad to hear this. I am a long-term fan of Patrick Gale, I discovered his writing back in 1990s thanks to another book review. I was so impressed with this book, especially that it is a historical novel and yet Gale doesn't let modern attitudes bleed into his narrative, but it isn't an easy read.

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I haven't read any of his works before, what swung it for me was listening to the audible sample and being able read a sample of the book on Amazon. It drew me in in a way that told me this is a story I want to know more about and intrigued me. The paperback version isn't available until next year but the hardback version is available immediately, naturally I want it ASAP so the hardback version is on order. 

I don't know if audible and/or print samples are on amazon for all books but it may be worthwhile pointing out when they are. I'm sure other readers find them a great benefit when deciding.

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On 11/13/2022 at 2:03 PM, Mancunian said:

I haven't read any of his works before, what swung it for me was listening to the audible sample and being able read a sample of the book on Amazon. It drew me in in a way that told me this is a story I want to know more about and intrigued me. The paperback version isn't available until next year but the hardback version is available immediately, naturally I want it ASAP so the hardback version is on order. 

I don't know if audible and/or print samples are on amazon for all books but it may be worthwhile pointing out when they are. I'm sure other readers find them a great benefit when deciding.

Wow, that's wonderful. It's such a great way to find a new author, you can hear their voice (via the audio sample) and see if you like it before buying it. I have started so many books, in the past, and stopped reading them because the author's style is so bad. I read this one on eBook, but its how I read most books now.

I like Patrick Gale because he is so good at getting under the skin of his characters and telling his story via them, but that's a style I really enjoy.

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I read one or two of his works in the 90s. He was quite popular.  His writing abilities raise him above the typical stuff that was around then. I love your comment about being able to avoid projecting modern concepts on to characters in the past.  Really thoughtful.   Thanks for the review. 

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6 hours ago, Gary L said:

I read one or two of his works in the 90s. He was quite popular.  His writing abilities raise him above the typical stuff that was around then. I love your comment about being able to avoid projecting modern concepts on to characters in the past.  Really thoughtful.   Thanks for the review. 

I first read some of Patrick Gale's books back in the 90s and he was different to so much of the books around then. I lost interest in him after reading Facing the Tank, plot wise it was such a mess. I came back to his work with this book and I was so surprised, it is so good.

It is a pet hate of mine, historical novels that are full of modern attitudes. If you're going to write a historical novel you have to write about the attitudes then, and doesn't sugar-coat them.

Oops, sorry but I climbed onto one of my soap boxes.

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