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3.4 out of 5 stars30
3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 12 December 2007
Like Gale's most famous novel, 'Rough Music', 'The Facts of Life' features two narratives several years apart concerning the same family. While the two threads are not interweaved in the same way as 'Rough Music', and do not have the same obvious link, both prove gripping reads, and the strong characterisation of Edward Pepper is retained throughout. As is common in Gale's work, a key theme is homosexuality and its complexities, but it would be unfair to pigeonhole this purely as 'gay literature' - anyone who appreciates strong storytelling will enjoy this novel. The contrasts between Edward and Jamie, the similarities between Sally and Alison and the three key deaths all provide particularly strong moments; and fans of Joan Collins are sure to indulge in a wry grin at the character of Myra Toye...
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I first read this in 1995 and it has been sitting safely on a shelf, together with my nearly complete collection of Patrick Gale books for nearly twenty years. This month we are reading A Perfectly Good Man for our Book Club and so I decided to revisit The Facts of Life as background browsing.

The more innocent first part is easily reminiscent of wide ranging mid last century family novels such as The Cazalet Chronicles Collection - 4 Books (RRP £33.96). Edward/Eli Pepper/Pfefferberg, most elegantly bridges both sections. He arrives, in wretched health, at a TB hospital, to be cared for by Dr. Sally. They make friends and the book begins to take shape. As a couple they are at first bohemian then more middle class. Throughout the story, wonderful music ripples through, as an underscore. Edward earnestly composes and plays, struggles as an artist ahead of his time, to conform, earn and build a reputation. Sally settles, allowed the freedom she needs by a generous mentor, Dr. Pertwee, who gifts her The Roundel, an unusual and inspirational female entailed property, that becomes their characterful home.

This is a very good tale, a hugely involving read; all of which is suddenly turned around by a shocking event. Sally only appears twice in the second part, which takes a very different turn. Written at the height of HIV/AIDS panic Patrick Gale has sensitively and comprehensively written the ultimate account of what it meant to be alive at that time and feeling very frightened. Infection may not anyway come from lifestyle, it can be medically introduced, so all are at risk. The relationships we are introduced to in the second part are illuminating, understandable, sweet and sour, always fascinating. Ghastly guilt is surrounding and enveloping the characters, to a deeply damaging extent; so much goes on in their heads, it is touchingly real and human. Generations unfold, children grow up, parents age... Nobody gets the perfect life.

I loved it even more the second time around and felt drawn back to the revolution in attitudes towards race, sexual orientation, moral judgement that is one of the major changes of my life span. Patrick Gale is a towering talent, his ability to conjure up atmosphere, smells, looks and feelings is pin sharp, and always kind, it is a privilege to be educated and entertained by his measured, thoughtful writing.

He should be even more widely appreciated. He feels like a friend.
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on 23 April 2008
I recently bought a copy of Patrick Gale's latest novel "Notes From An Exhibition" and I thought before reading it I'd re-read this book as it has always been my favourite of Gale's novels and made a real impression on me when I read it back in the mid 90's. At first I felt disappointed, I'd had this book taking up space on my bookshelves for over ten years and it really wasn't doing much for me, but then, and I think this is one of Gale's skills as a storyteller, it began to draw me in and I found myself really caring for characters I hadn't particularly liked at the start of the book. And once the author has drawn you in and you begin to care he starts to put you through the emotional wringer - one moment I was laughing aloud the next I felt like crying. There's an air of melancholic nostalgia which permeates the whole book and which is absolutely beautiful. Three generations of the Pepper family live or stay at The Roundel in this novel which spans from the post-war years to the present day. The house is given to Sally Pepper, a doctor, by a childless woman friend with the proviso that it continues to be passed down the female line of the family, but interestingly enough, it is the male characters on which the house seems to exert more of its influence, particularly Sally's husband, Edward who lives in the grounds for the duration of the novel and for whom it is an escape from the harsh realities of his past, as a German Jew and also for his grandson, Jamie, who uses the house to escape from the realities of his present, as he uses it as a retreat whilst suffering from AIDS.
It is extremely well-written and fully deserves its place on my bookshelf where it will now be going back on the space it left waiting to be re-read again at some point in the future. It still remains my favourite of Patrick Gale's novels (with "Rough Music" coming in second) and it has made me look forward to reading the new one.
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on 18 May 2000
Facts of Life is one of those books that stands head and shoulders above others in the AIDS genre. As previous reviewers have pointed out, its a novel of two halves, contrasting two tales of courtship from different times. It is the juxtaposition of a modern gay fairy tale (with the drop dead gorgeous Sam who I long to bump into next time I wander past a construction site) and a beautifully written tale of post war (straight) romance that adds realism and a sense of perspective. Facts of Life cleverly juggles the bad and good fortune we all have to put up with in life, but, in typical Gale style, optimism wins the day. As one has come to expect of Gale, Facts of Life is faultlessly crafted, weaving story lines and drawing the reader in like much of his other books. Rather unfortunately Facts of Life is often to be found in the gay and lesbian section of your book shop. Don't let this put you off... this is a novel for everyone. Go read.
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on 27 August 2014
I normally enjoy all Patrick Gale's books but I found this one all too easy to pick up and put down - with little incentive to continue reading. It is rambling and over long. I did not feel empathy with any of the characters. I feel the book would have been stronger with editing. Too long winded for me. I found it a dull read and it was a challenge to finish it. A disappointing contrast to his other books.
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on 5 January 2004
Over the past year I've been working my way through Patrick Gale's novels. Yes, Rough Music is his masterpiece but you can't compare everything to it (see other reviews). I thought this book was very moving.
It is two stories and at times I couldn't really see any reason for putting them in one volume but as you get nearer the end of the second part you see that stories from both parts mirror each other. The Holocoust and AIDs, a grandfather and his grandson both in hospital and mercy killings. These things go towards making up the "facts of life". And maybe the novel also offers different ways of surviving: blocking things out,loving too much, living through other people or just passing through as the Hollywood star does.
My only complaint is that Mr Gale doesn't tie up all the ends of the novel but maybe this is deliberate. It means that you keep the lives of his characters in your mind and plot what you think should have happened. I won't give anythnig away but Alison, you must tell him!
It's about time one of Mr Gale's books was dramatised for tv and if a producedr could successfully link the two partsthis would make a great start (or what about A Sweet Obsucrity?)
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on 1 October 2003
Again, a promising start (as so many of his other novels) but then too far fetched and ridiculous ending. Some touching moments admittedly (especially re the ravaging effect of AIDS) but on the whole, no where near as good as Rough Music - his best book in my opinion.
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on 4 June 2016
An absorbing family saga about a holocaust survivor in post-war Britain, and his grandchildren in the 1990s.
Fascinating characters, important issues handled with delicacy and style, powerful writing and epic scope.
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on 13 January 2000
The story is unusual, but the previous reviewer's suggestion that it's two books joined together, one better written than the other, seems bizarre. Effortlessly readable, the story is compelling throughout and extremely well crafted. It's not Dickens - or even Martin Amis - but it is very good, and to be recommended.
(And if Armistead Maupin liked it, you can't really argue with that, can you?)
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on 31 October 2009
I read this book years ago and remembered liking it very much. Being in a 'Patrick Gale phase' just now I was keen to re-read. I have to admit that it took quite a while to really get into it this time. The first part, telling the story of Edward and Sally is enjoyable but I found quite a lot of it unmoving, even the death of one of the major characters! I found it difficult to warm to Edward and as his story is weightier than Sally's, that became quite a major drawback. As always, Gale is more comfortable writing about the middle and upper middle classes and it therefore becomes necessary to have working class Sally hauled up the social ranks courtesy of a benevolent tutor who not only turns her into a middle class girl but also, conveniently, gifts her a large (though admittedly dilapidated) country house in which to live with her new husband. I found this rather unconvincing and it was a pity that Gale also felt the need to turn her parents into a couple of faintly comical working class caricatures in the process - although there is one very touching scene between Sally and her mother in the latter's bedroom early on that almost redeems this.

Things don't improve much at the start of part two. It took a very long time for me to warm to Jamie and Sam as individuals. Jamie never convinces as a sexually predatory city shark, its too against his character (but perhaps that's the point) and its difficult to get past Sam's image as the ultimate gay fantasy Marlboro man. As a result their initial coming together is very difficult to believe in (as with Gale's other gay romances, it happens very quickly and very easily) but it does get better as it goes on. Alison is more likeable but so incredibly passive throughout that you do want to slap her sometimes. Edward remains rather chilly but he too improves as the second part goes on and that's what (for me at least) saves this book from just 3 stars. The second half of the second part is incredibly good and well up to the standard of my two Gale favourites so far ('Rough Music' and 'Cat Sanctuary'). Roughly from Jamie's illness onwards its almost like reading a different story. The characters all become more sympathetic, even the shadowy, periphery ones like Miriam and Myra. The Christmas chapter at Miriam's house feels very real and thats when the book turned around for me. I was suprised to find that I did cry at the end. Gale gives the final chapter, as he often does, to one of the periphery characters but unlike 'Notes from an Exhibition' where I felt it didn't really work, here it absolutely does. He tells Myra's story so effectively in that single chapter and everything we need to know about the remaining characters and her interaction with them, its masterly! I came away full of praise and the book gained an extra star! Well worth persevering with.
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