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.
Release date: 05/01/2001