Rough Music by Patrick Gale – a review by Neil

rough music cover imageIt’s 1968 and eight year-old Julian, along with his parents, holidays in a bungalow on the beach at Polcamel – a fictitious village on the North Cornwall coast between Padstow (of Rick Stein’s restaurants fame) and Port Isaac (TV’s Doc Martin). 32 years later having recently celebrated his 40th birthday, Julian returns to holiday unknowingly in the same bungalow. Progress has changed the seaside village (it now has a full-sized golf course) and the bungalow (now painted bright blue), but the family secrets remain. Once again Gale uses the passage of time to his (and his readers) advantage, by flip-flopping between 1968 and 2000. This enables him to reveal plot-lines as and when he wants them revealed. And there’s certainly a lot of plot. The 40 year-old Julian has been sleeping with his brother-in-law since his sister’s marriage, and dealing with his mother who has Alzheimers, while his eight year-old self lives an unusual almost surreal existence at a London prison where his father is the head warden. Gale cleverly contrasts the loss of childhood memories with memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease. The beach house in Gales beloved Cornwall is the instrument for family conflict and many twists and turns. This “rough music” plays out beautifully in this seaside location. Although the lead up to some of the situations is a trifle contrived, this is a very fine and readable book. Told in the 3rd person via several of the main characters, Gale manages to bring family life alive. While I feel A Perfectly Good Man is a slightly better book, this is certainly a must read.

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