Top positive review
A Sweet Obscurity
on 8 January 2017
'A Sweet Obscurity', one of Patrick Gale's longer novels, is a warm-hearted, multi-stranded story which is set in London and Cornwall and which looks at the lives of assortment of people, several of whom are struggling to cope with sensitive issues they are trying to keep hidden from those around them. Eliza, a rather disorganized musicologist suffering from bouts of depression, is separated from her husband, Giles, a professional counter-tenor singer. She has spent the last nine years bringing up her deceased sister's daughter, the surprisingly mature Dido, and since the separation lives in a council flat in Islington. Eliza was working for a doctorate but, for various reasons, she has abandoned her research work on the Elizabethan madrigal and the compositions of the Cornish poet-composer Roger Trevescan, and is now feeling despondent and directionless. She is also worrying about something which affected her sister when she was alive, and something which could have a huge impact on Dido's future life.
Giles now lives with his girlfriend, the cool and very business-like Julia, who runs his home and professional life with aplomb, but he still has a close relationship with the nine-year-old Dido (having married Eliza when Dido was a baby) and they continue to spend time together. However, when Dido discovers something about Giles that upsets and confuses her, their relationship takes a turn for the worse and Guy, filled with guilt and remorse, is unsure how to deal with the situation. Julia, meanwhile, makes a life-altering discovery of her own; however, aware that Giles is attracted to her but not in love with her, she is not sure how he will react to her news, and this forces her think more closely about the future of their relationship. And when Eliza's mother falls ill and she and Dido travel to Cornwall - where Eliza meets and becomes attracted to the kind and dependable Pearce, a farmer who just happens to have a connection with Roger Trevescan - a whole series of events are set in motion which leave none of them unaffected. (No spoilers - we learn most of this early on in the story and at nearly five hundred pages there is a lot more in this novel for prospective readers to discover).
Patrick Gale writes beautifully about situation and setting and whilst it is true that some aspects of the plot rely on coincidences, and other aspects are not entirely convincing, this is a big, warm-hearted story filled with characters one cares about and becomes interested in what ultimately happens to them. As always, the author writes with perception and with an empathic understanding of human nature and of the situations people find themselves in; he also seems to write as well from a female perspective as he does from the male. I was drawn into this novel from its very first pages and although there was a part of this story that unsettled me (I can't explain further without revealing spoilers) and which made me wonder if that aspect of the plot would spoil my appreciation of the novel as a whole, I need not have worried because the rest of the story was so satisfyingly enjoyable that I started and finished it in two sittings. Recommended.