Beautifully written and deeply compassionate, Rough Music is a novel of one family at two defining points in time. Seamlessly alternating between the present day and a summer thirty years past, its twin stories unfold at a cottage along the eastern coast of England. Will Pagett receives an unexpected gift on his fortieth birthday, two weeks at a perfect beach house in Cornwall. Seeking some distance from the married man with whom he's having an affair, he invites his aging mother and father to share his holiday, knowing the sun and sea will be a welcome change for. But the cottage and the stretch of sand before it seem somehow familiar and memories of a summer long ago begin to surface. Thirty-two years earlier. A young married couple and their eight year-old son begin two idyllic weeks at a beach house in Cornwall. But the sudden arrival of unknown American relatives has devastating consequences, turning what was to be a moment of reconciliation into an act of betrayal that will cast a lengthy shadow.
Gale (Tree Surgery for Beginners) is an English novelist with a particular gift for family dynamics. Cleverly structured and sophisticated in its treatment of time, his latest novel is an alternately sweet, touching and somber tale of a mildly dysfunctional English family. The book alternates between accounts of two family holidays spent in the same seaside cottage in Cornwall 30 years apart. The sturdy, reliable father, John Pagett, is "governor" (warden) of a British prison, which supplies young Julian with considerable offbeat excitement, particularly when a noted prisoner escapes. Frances, Julian's mother, is a repressed musician who seems to have merely settled for John and domesticity. Thirty years later, John is still much as he was; Julian has become Will and is unhappily gay, carrying on a doomed affair with brother-in-law Sandy; Frances is showing signs of incipient Alzheimer's. As the scenes alternate, Gale slyly enlarges his canvas, embroiling the younger Frances in a brief affair with her brother-in-law. The domestic details and undercurrents of an English seaside holiday in the vastly differing social climates of the 1950s and '80s are stunningly caught, and the dialogue, whether parent-placid or suddenly gay-quarrelsome, is spot on. The conclusion, for both Will and his parents, brings a deserved glow of quiet reconciliation. The only thing that may slightly mar this highly intelligent and beautifully crafted novel for American readers is its very British emotional reticence, even if that does allow for myriad shades of delicate feeling. (May) Forecast: Ballantine is making a big push for this book, with encomiums from many of its key salespeople, and it will be interesting to see if the independent booksellers, at whom these are obviously aimed, will respond to the book similarly. If they do, it should become a strong hand-selling prospect. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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June 24, 2002
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Excerpt from Rough Music by Patrick Gale
She walked across the sand carrying a shoe in either hand, drawn forward as much by the great blue moon up ahead as by the sound of the breaking waves. The moon had a ring around it which promised or threatened something, she forgot what exactly. The chill of the foam shocked her skin. She stood still and felt the delicious tug beneath her soles as the water sucked sand out from under them. The water was as cold as death. If I stood here long enough, she thought, just stood, the sea would draw out more and more sand from under me and bring more and more back in. Little by little I’d sink, ankles already, knees soon, then waist, then belly. She imagined standing up to her tingling breasts in sucking, salty sand. When the first, disarmingly little wave struck her in the face, would she panic? Would she, instead, laugh, as they said, inappropriately? She dared herself not to move. The moon was nearly full. She could see the headland on the far side of the estuary mouth and its stumpy, striped lighthouse. She could see the foam flung and drawn, flung and drawn about her. He was striding across the little beach behind her; she could tell without turning. Would his hands touch her first or would she merely feel the jacket he draped about her? Would he call out from yards away or would she hear his voice soft and sudden when his lips were only inches from her neck? Her resolution not to turn stiffened her spine. Watching weeds and foam rush away from her for long enough made it feel as though the sea and beach were motionless and it was only she who was gliding back and forth on mysterious salty tracks. I love you. She felt the words well up. I love you more than words can say. Which was true, of course, because when she felt his steadying hands about her shoulders at last and the brush of his lips on her neck, all that came from her mouth was, “I turn you. Turn my words away?” BLUE HOUSE “Actually I feel a bit of a fraud being here,” Will told her. “I’m basically a happy man. No. There’s no basically about it. I’m happy. I am a happy man.” “Good,” she said, crossing her legs and caressing an ankle as if to smooth out a crease she found there. “What makes you say that?” “That I’m happy?” She nodded. “Well.” He uncrossed his legs, sat back in the sofa and peered out of her study window. He saw the waters of the Bross glittering at the edge of Boniface Gardens, two walkers pausing, briefly allied by the gamboling of their dogs. “I imagine you usually see people at their wit’s end. People with depression or insoluble problems.” “Occasionally. Some people come to me merely because they’ve lost their way.” He detected a certain sacerdotal smugness in her tone and suspected he hated her. “Well I’m here because a friend bought me a handful of sessions for my birthday. She thinks I need them.” “Do you mind?” He shrugged, laughed. “Makes a change from socks and book tokens.” “But you don’t feel you need to be here.” “I . . . I know it sounds arrogant but no, I don’t. Not especially. It’s just that it would have been rude not to come, even though she’ll be far too discreet to ask how I get on with you. If I didn’t come, I’d be rejecting her present and I’d hate to do that. I love her.” “Her being?” “Harriet. My best friend. She’s like a second sister but I think of her as a friend first and family second.” “You