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Mother’s Boy by Patrick Gale

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction | Literary Fiction

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

‘Based around the known facts of the boyhood and youth of the great Cornish poet, Charles Causley and the life of the mother who raised him singlehandedly.’

Mother’s Boy by Patrick Gale is just published with Tinder Press. Described as ‘a superb historical novel of Cornwall, class, desire and two world wars’, it is Patrick Gale’s seventeenth novel and his first fully historical one since A Place Called Winter.

To many, including myself, the name Charles Causley may not be familiar but ‘as a patron of the Charles Causley Trust Patrick Gale was already passionate about Causley’s poems and wanting to get them read by a wider audience…it was only when he started to look more closely into the poet’s life that he hit on the idea of basing a novel on him.’ Charles Causley was born August 24th 1917 in the town of Launceston in Cornwall. His mother, Laura and father, Charlie had had a whirlwind relationship during a time when they were both servants to wealthy households. Following their marriage, Charlie enlisted and Laura was left at home taking in laundry, like her mother before her, to help keep food on the table. Laura longed for a baby and, on one of Charlie’s trips home, their son Charles was conceived. Following his birth, Laura doted on him and, until Charlie came back from the war, it was just the two of them. Laura relished this time alone with her son.

‘Nothing had prepared Laura for the deep comfort and satisfaction motherhood had brought her….the pleasure she took in Charles was so intense that she felt it almost indecent, a thing she needed to hide. He cried occasionally, of course, usually when she left him, but most of the time he just gurgled to himself and watched her…and she talked to him, naturally, incessantly, glad of his company’

After the war, Charlie came back a different man, both physically and emotionally. His lungs were very badly damaged in the trenches and his mind was altered by the horrors he witnessed. Poorly, his condition was something that young Charles just accepted. He knew his father was not like others and he relished any time they had together. But Charlie eventually succumbed to his illness when young Charles was seven years old, leaving Laura and himself even stronger as a unit, facing the challenges and struggles ahead together.

Laura knew that Charles was quite a unique child, different to other boys, with no interest in sport. He was a bookish young lad, with a curiosity and an openness that to some made him a target of bullying. Leaving school at fifteen years of age, his working career began. Charles was never that enamoured by office work and, when WW2 broke out, like his father before him, he enlisted. He joined the navy and was a coder, although his seasickness meant that he spent much time on Gibraltar. The freedom these years provided to Charles gave him insights into life beyond the confines of small town living but also allowed him to express himself and his desires and, in many ways, although a traumatic time in his life, it was a journey of self-discovery.

Mother’s Boy is as much a tribute to Charles Causley as it is to Laura, his mother. Her strength to carry on under the most difficult circumstances and her love for her son was clearly evident in every decision she made. At times, frustrated by Charles’ need for privacy as he got older, she felt she was losing him but she was never sure what to. He returned from the war a changed man, moving back into the family home and becoming a teacher. Over the years his work was recognised and published and he was the host of BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please for quite a few years. He never left Launceston, except to travel during school holidays and he died in 2003.

Patrick Gale researched the life of Charles Causley and soon became immersed in the life of both mother and son. He assembled as much fact as possible and then wrapped his story around it, keeping as close to the truth as he could.

“He seemed to have laid out the clues in plain sight, like a tantalising breadcrumb trail for me to follow. Whenever he was asked why he never wrote his memoir he would always reply that it was all in the poems so I began to reread the poems more clearly and found one in particular, Angel Hill, which reads like a haunting confession. And then there was his training as one of the first generation of naval coders which handed me the perfect metaphor for a man hiding himself in layers of secrecy as well as the perfect training for him to receive as a poet.”
– Patrick Gale

Mother’s Boy is a beautifully researched tribute to a quiet man, a gentle man, a man whose work, in later years, resonated for its simplicity and its ability to depict Cornish life and culture. Patrick Gale explores the mother-son relationship up to the late 1940s. He describes it in the Author’s Note as “a loose retelling of the early life of the Cornish Poet Charles Causley and his mother.”

I have a passion for historical fiction for many reasons but one in particular, which is that I always stumble upon a person or an event that I knew very little about. Opening my eyes and my mind to our past allows me to see where we are now as a society and how life has changed over the course of many years. Some changes are slower than others and some are ones that may not bring goodwill to mankind but it is fascinating to read about other people and their experiences during times gone by.

Mother’s Boy is a simple story beautifully told. Dignified in its portrayal of Charles Causley, Patrick Gale transports the reader back to those challenging years of the 20th century, a time that saw incomprehensive damage inflicted by two world wars. A beguiling piece of writing, Mother’s Boy is an insightful and engaging tale, one that radiates authenticity and confidence in its storytelling.

“I have honoured most of the established facts and included plenty of others I stumbled on in my research but I’d want nobody to make the mistake this for a scholarly biography of a great man, not least because I have shamelessly used fiction and conjecture to fill the gaps in stories that history and discretion had left blank.”
– Patrick Gale

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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