Patrick Gale’s writing is exquisite. I haven’t read many of his novels but each one I have read has been perfectly told, at just the right pace with a large dose of compassion and tenderness.
Eustace is an only child but he wasn’t his parents’ only child. Much of his insecurities stem from the fact that he survived when his siblings didn’t, although he doesn’t know that from his parents. The story begins with Eustace as an adult just having been told he has cancer. He has also just fallen in love and doesn’t know if he can tell his new love of his recent diagnosis. We mostly see Eustace growing up in the old peoples’ home where he lives with his mother and father. He’s a bit of a strange young boy; he enjoys ballet but when his father is angry after seeing him ‘prancing around’ he is forced to change course and learns to play the cello. Eustace has a gift for music and becomes quite an impressive young player.
Eustace’s mother is remote and fragile until she starts taking Eustace to Bristol at the weekends to stay with Carla his cello teacher, and her two gay friends. Mother becomes more alive than ever she is at home and Eustace sees a wonderful new side to his mother, especially when drinking wine with Carla. Eustace’s cello lessons, as well as his private schooling, become a stretch too much for his parents, and at the age of thirteen has to attend the local comprehensive school. He didn’t have an easy time at the private school, he is a slightly weird child, and relies heavily on Vernon, his one friend who also moves to the comprehensive with him.
This is a coming of age story which is sad and touching on so many levels. It’s not unexpected that Eustace is gay, but in the wrong school with the wrong people he’s a jigsaw piece that doesn’t fit, but put him in the right setting with musical and artistic people, Eustace flourishes. As he grows, there is tragedy, laughter and raw emotion, until we meet Eustace again with his new love in the present day.
Take Nothing With You is a beautiful literary piece. It’s impeccably written by a talented master of the pen and I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up any of Patrick Gale’s books. Totally recommended.