The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale

Another unexpected absence from blogging, my apologies. NaBloPoMo starts today and I might just have to take up the challenge and improve my habits. My time of late though has been taken up with LP, who has been poorly but is now bouncing back with no damage more lasting than a seasonally-appropriate surgery scar.

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The time and energy it takes to keep a dog from worrying her stitches is something else though – I think after years of having used it to survive hectic days, long runs and late nights spent studying, I might finally have developed an immunity to Berocca Boost. The search is on for a replacement. Chia seeds seem to be the new guarana, who knew?!

I have been reading though, including my first Patrick Gale novel which I serendipitously picked up at the book exchange in our local recycling centre only a few days after having had it recommended by a friend. She and I were trying to find some middle ground in our reading choices. We’re still trying. My reciprocal recommendation for The Whole Day Through (which my friend perhaps misleadingly classified as a family saga) was Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. She’s still making her way through it but seems to feel that I sent her not so much to the middle ground, but rather to no-man’s land. It’s not the first time I’ll have unintentionally traumatised someone with a book I’ve loved and it’s unlikely to be the last.

There’s nothing terribly traumatic about The Whole Day Through. Spanning the course of a single day, the story revolves around Laura, who has given up her worry-free Parisian lifestyle to return to Winchester to care for her ailing mother, and her chance re-encounter with Ben, the object of a disappointed but definitive love-affair from Laura’s college days. Just as the day is broken down into sedate and civilised slices (beginning with Early Morning Tea and ending with Nightcap), the details of Laura and Ben’s story are just as leisurely revealed. The events of their relationship, then and now, could easily be the stuff of high drama in other hands but Gale has a way of making every incident seem no more important than it is at the time of experiencing it rather than automatically slotting each piece into the bigger picture, a view of which can ultimately only ever be seen retrospectively, and even then by the omniscient narrator and not the characters involved. The reactions each character has to the events as they unfold seem so natural, responding as they are to things as they happen rather than the impact they might have in a wider narrative. The drama of the novel is found not in wrought set-pieces or lengthy and unnaturally insightful conversations, but rather in the slow and subtle layering of action, reaction and consequence until the characters reach the same destination, only having traveled there in a much more ordinary, realistic and relatable manner.

And that delicacy is, I think, a great talent of Gale’s and certainly one I admire and appreciate. It adds credibility to every word he writes and imbues his characters with a rounded-ness that I’ve seldom found in this kind of fiction. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m not a romantic kind of soul but I often find myself pulled out of romance stories if a love-affair is written as all-consuming. If all I find out about a character is tied up to one narrow slice of their life, with which I have no chance of finding a common reference, then I generally struggle to care about the character or the story’s outcome. If there are even small hints towards a humdrum reality more akin to my own, then I’m immediately more likely to give credence to the larger drama. Reconnecting with the love of your life? Wonderful, but don’t forget you need to pick up food for dinner too.  Taking time to make a cup of tea after a life-changing decision? Tell me more!

Gale has succeeded in creating a story that loses none of its impact for being firmly rooted in the realm of the possible, even the practical. For example, at one point Ben decides to visit Laura in her home after an argument. She’s been ignoring his texts and calls and, perhaps having read one too many melodramas himself, Ben takes things into his own hands.

Finally, on the Sunday afternoon, he could bear it no longer and decided simply to call around, face humiliation or rejection, anything to have the opportunity of seeing her again.

Faced with the reality of Laura and her mother pottering around undramatically in the garden, the visit falls short of Ben’s imaginings and he leaves after his third cup of tea and second slice of cake.

He had thought what? That Laura only had to see him in the gateway to relent? That she would snatch a moment’s conference with him to unsay hasty words, to arrange another date? Instead she mutely encouraged her mother to join her in waving him off so that they weren’t left alone for one instant. The folly and egotism of his little visit weighed hard on him in the night which followed.

I think that for any imagining of the extraordinary to work, it must connect in some way to the ordinary. But layering a story with one credible detail after another, as Gale does in The Whole Day Through, can offer an architecture to the ordinary that brings it close to the shape of the extraordinary without ever making it anything other than wholly realistic and utterably believable. I believed every word that Patrick Gale was telling me about Laura and Ben and their story. I hope it won’t be too long before he has the opportunity to test my credibility with another offering.

The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale (London: Fourth Estate, 2009)

 

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2 thoughts on “The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale

  1. Sounds like my kind of read. There is a certain beauty in the ordinary that is difficult to capture and it sounds like Gale has managed to do so in this novel. Sorry to hear LP has been unwell 😦 If you tire of chia seeds I highly recommend rhodiola rosea – perks me up every time.

    1. Oh, I’d forgotten about rhodiola rosea. Once when I was doing my PhD, I went into a health food store and told them I was looking for something to relieve the stress of studying at the same time as giving me energy for more studying and that’s what I came home with! Must check if anything is still in date. Thanks, Yolanda!

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