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Kansas in August Paperback – 4 Feb 2002
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‘Patrick Gale, on the strength of this modern, excellent and sympathetic novel, seems to be bound for greatness.’ Stephen Fry
‘Patrick Gale is an elegant, witty writer, with an engagingly bizarre imagination.’ Sunday Telegraph
‘Gale’s blend of artifice and realism is not quite like anybody else’s.’ Observer
From the Back Cover
Hilary is a young, attractive teacher with aspirations to be a tap-dancer. Henry, his elder sister, is a crisp, professional psychologist. The unpredictable and unreliable Rufus, a failed pianist, is their lover – whom neither Hilary nor Henry realise they are sharing. Despite the constant danger of discovery, this unwitting triangle persists, in delicate balance – until, that is, someone new and totally unexpected enters the frame. Having rescued an abandoned baby boy, found soaked and tearful in a subway, Hilary decides, to his own great surprise, to become a surrogate parent.See all Product description
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This novel, named after a line in a song :'(I'm in love with) A Wonderful Guy' from the musical 'South Pacific' is a very short read, but it is an enjoyable one. As always with novels from Patrick Gale, this is beautifully written with characters you become involved with and care about. I found Hilary a sympathetic, endearingly human character and I was also very interested in Evelyn, Hilary's elderly godmother, who, unfortunately, makes only a fleeting appearance in the book. Henry is not quite such an endearing character and she does not evoke immediate sympathy, but I did find her an intriguing person and I would have liked the author to have developed her character further - in fact I would have enjoyed reading more about all of the main characters' inner lives and motivations and I felt the brevity of the novel prevented the author from developing this story into something even more interesting and enjoyable than it undeniably already is. That said, Patrick Gale is an excellent writer; his wonderful prose is always a pleasure to read and I really enjoyed this story, galloping through it from start to finish and sorry to turn the last page. I am now keen to start another of the author's novels:The Cat Sanctuary which I have buried somewhere on my ever-growing 'to be read' mountain.
Also recommended from the same author:A Perfectly Good Man;Notes from an Exhibition and Ease
The characters and narrative are good, but just as it gets going it abruptly ends, as if he got bored of it and put it down unfinished.
And what's it got to do with Kansas?
Henry is the stronger character. She is a successful medic specialising in often threatening psychiatric cases. Hilary teaches music peripatetically. Some of the children he meets might benefit from the attentions of his sister. Rufus is a partially credible amalgam of a macho man, gay pride, anything, perhaps, that he can think of today. But it is the word "think" that seems to provide the greatest challenge for these people.
They are presented as contemporary Brits rattling around west London. It is apparently always snowing. There are constant strikes and various other social challenges that result in piles of rubbish permanently half-hiding the urban decay that lines the streets. There is much alcohol consumption and occasional drug abuse, probably conceived as recreational, despite the fact that no-one ever seems to have any money.
Hilary finds a baby - yes, a real baby - abandoned in a cot. He seems to think that finders can be keepers and sets about being its foster parent. He seems to be under a personal impression that he can keep his find, as if he had discovered a stray dog or a dropped wallet. He sets about occasional feeding and watering, and takes it out once in a while to provide diversion. A young Asian girl befriends him and develops a crush. And this character, remember, we have been told is au fait with teaching, schooling and other things related to youngsters. As I mentioned earlier, "thinking" seems to challenge these people.
I admit to becoming rather confused as I read Patrick Gale's novel. I found these people quite incredible and not very likeable. I did not understand and definitely did not empathise with any of their opinions or actions. They all seemed completely self-obsessed, rather crass and, crucially, unable to imaging anything beyond the end of the nose. Even immediate reality seemed to pass them by. But then, perhaps, that is contemporary Britain, something of a dross heap of selfishness. But, given west London and snow, why "Kansas" and why "August" remain two questions that still utterly defeat me.
Hilary was a likeable character and you could feel sympathies with his frustration at being a teacher when he really wanted to be an actor but I became irritated by Henry and didn't really like her, just as I found the lead female character in Areodynamics Of Pork unlikable, this had a slight impact on my enjoyment of the story. That said there were enough twists and humor to keep me page turning and the infatuation Hilary's landlord's daughter had with him was quite amusing.
All in all an unlikely story but fun nevertheless.
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