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The Facts of Life Paperback – 14 May 2009
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‘Deftly characterised, deeply involving and relevant. A memorable achievement’ The Times
‘It is impossible to put “The Facts of Life” down. A rural English blockbuster. It is beautifully done’ Daily Telegraph
‘Patrick Gale offers us so much more than facts in this extraordinary blockbuster of a novel. Its exploration of family ties and tyranny is encompassed within a deft narrative. Much like the late Ivy Compton-Burnett, Gale presents us with a family saga which both questions and defies present day morality. Always fluent, Gale manages to be both brutal and witty. His analysis of the family tree is rooted in compassion and insight and expounded resoundingly well’ Time Out
‘Gale’s best and most complex novel. Gale is both a shameless romantic and hip enough to get away with it’ New Statesman
A mesmerising, epic yet intimate and humane novel of love, music and the life events that stay with us forever --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.See all Product description
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In their early married life they work through a recipe book in order (so I am not the only one who does that), so there are lots of successive soups before getting to any meat dishes, which was good as they were cheaper and they were poor.
The priest who married them was concerned that the groom was Jewish so he chooses a reading about being married to heathens. That would not have been an option in the wedding service then. It is only very recently that people were allowed to choose readings other than those set. It is good that the author wants to portray anti-Semitism but he should be accurate.
Edward is a strong presence throughout the book; enchanting and interesting.
There are some vivid descriptions, for example, of giving birth, of people who manipulate marches (the Socialist Workers Party comes to mind) of the way in which AIDS-related illness ravaged those who suffered from it in the early days. "The virus sabotaged his body's defences: death came to seem like no more than the ultimate painkiller."
The inadequacy of medicine in earlier times is shown three times. The boredom and stifling atmosphere of a mental hospital where there is no stimulation other than ECT, a place for people with trauma where there is no treatment, merely containment are examples.
Euthanasia occurs twice, in different generations, and there is a moving scene where someone begs for it. The earlier instance, however evoked strong feelings from some of our group - murder, plain and simple - Edward achieved what the Nazis were hell-bent on doing.
Sam in a mercurial counterpoint. It would be worth re-reading the book and concentrating on his character in order to understand more.
Is the goddess figurine fetish a bringer of bad luck?
The compromises people make to earn a living are described: the musician who writes sentimental tunes because they will be popular and make him a log of money: he "abandoned his music for mammon." This can be contrasted with a simple job in a music shop job where the employee no longer has to have a split persona but can be himself consistently.
There is a cheesy description of being in love, comparing a boiled sweet to a blood orange.
There is a degree of political awareness: the private companies' medical scheme where employees sign a waiver that compromises doctor-patient confidentiality so that the millionaire boss who claims `Jesus as his personal saviour.' can sack someone who is ill with impunity.
There is some psychological awareness: I am sure that many of us have, after some injustice, imagined our own death and what people will guiltily say afterwards.
Some stories have a sense of inevitability many pages before the event - you just know that Sam is going to bed Alison.
And was it Alison or the author who knows no Latin? Alison says that Myra is a dea ex machina
Owing to various commitments, our group only had two weeks to read this book. It was daunting, initially, as it is such a big book. However, it is also easy and straightforward to read so it is possible to romp through it. However, we thought it was too long and wondered whether it would have been better as three books - a trilogy. The first half was best and then most of the rest was padding until just before the end. Mind you, our resident curmudgeon `quite enjoyed it' which is somewhat unusual.
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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