The Whole Day Through (2009)
When forty-something Laura Lewis is obliged to abandon a life of stylish independence in Paris to care for her elderly mother in Winchester, it seems all romantic opportunities have gone up in smoke. Then she runs into Ben, the great love of her student days and, as she only now dares admit, the emotional yardstick by which she has judged every man since.
Are they brave enough to take this second chance at the lasting happiness which fate has offered them? Or will they be defeated by the insidious need, instilled in childhood, to do the right thing?
Patrick’s thirteenth novel is a brief, even terse, love story, in which a man and woman are reunited after a twenty year interval and have a short taste of delight. However it’s also a novel about obligation. Both Laura and Ben have turned their lives upside down in order to care for relatives, she for her cranky, brilliant mother, he, for his gay younger brother who has Mosaic Down’s Syndrome.
But the implication is that, while the caring is genuine, it is also ever so slightly an excuse for failures elsewhere in their lives.
The novel takes its structure from a high summer day in Laura’s life in her mother’s house, from a rude awakening to a late night nightcap in the garden after her mother has gone to bed. This progression through her day is interleaved with a parallel journey through Ben’s, as he copes with the complications of young Bobby’s late-flowering sexuality and the myriad half-truths told him by patients attending his venereology clinic. Only as the day progresses and the weather experienced by the characters sharply differs do we begin to wonder if all is what it seems.
Once again Patrick is exploring memory and its tricks. Although we live through a day with the characters, we also journey back into their shared and separate pasts through their memories and see the different ways they’ve chosen to interpret the same events.
We also see another favourite Gale theme emerge: the way they’ve been shaped by their childhoods. Ben’s father walked out when he was a boy, leaving him the man of the household when he was barely thirteen which has left him with a inflated sense of the need to treat the women in his life with care, an instinct for chivalry that can have quite the opposite of the desired effect. Laura, on the other hand, was the child of radical, unmarried parents who took her on idyllic naturist holidays from babyhood on, which has not only shaped her attitudes to the human body but her approach to sex and sensuality.
Publisher: Tinder Press
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Reviews of The Whole Day Through
Laura and Ben are student lovers who meet again some 20-plus years and several responsibilities later in Winchester. Laura has given up Paris to look after her frail, elderly mother; Ben, who is in a flagging, painfully childless marriage, is keeping an eye on his brother and his alarmingly late-blossoming sex life.
This being a Patrick Gale novel, unusual scenarios and obscure diseases abound: Laura’s mother, Prof Harriet Jellicoe, is an eminent virologist and naturist who enjoys gardening in the nude, even when it’s raining; Ben’s (gay) brother Bobby has the Mosaic (milder) variant of Downs Syndrome and Ben is not any old doctor, but one that deals, often squalidly and horribly fascinatingly, in sexual health.
Laura and Ben are ecstatic at finding each other again, but there is a feeling of limitation hanging over their passionate reunion, as neither can be free from guilt. As the title suggests, the story, written with Gale’s trademark tenderness and elegiac prose, covers the events of one day. It is more a novella, slim and satisfying, and the end will catch you completely unaware.
I’m a sucker for books set in real places and since this one takes place in Winchester I have avidly worked out the locations. Better still, the book blindsided me with its ending.
New Books – Guy Pringle
The cover might make it look like a mixture of chick lit and misery memoir, but this latest work by the respected author is anything but…
Catholic Herald – Ed West
Gale follows up his highly successful Notes From an Exhibition with this close-knit drama of middle-age possibilities and regrets. … Gale’s literary device is to set the entire story in one day filled with flashbacks. In some ways it works very neatly as the various characters move through what, on the surface, is just any other day while underneath all kinds of emotions are boiling. The structure, in which so many of these thoughts take place over a cup of tea or a mid morning coffee, is superficially successful. But with teh constant changes in viewpoint, coupled with the ever moving timescale, it is easy to become lost and lose track of which incident happened when. It then comes as a surprise to realise how far back some of these memories actually are. Gale is much more at home in carefully creating character and in many ways the book is dominated by Laura’s mother, a naturalist gardener who likes nothing more than a good cup of tea and hacking away at the roses. Mummy has been a great intellectual force in her time but her body is now giving up on her and as she and Laura renegotiate their roles it is a look into the future for many of us. Gale is a gifted writer whose talent is in the miniature. Despite the problems coping with a fractured timeline this is nevertheless an enjoyable read.
Birmingham Sunday Mercury – Diane Parkes
Central to the story is what it means to be a carer, and the burden of duty that that presents. The action of the book takes place in the course of a single long June day, punctuated at regular intervals with an almost monastic rhythm. The book is about memory and regret, and about mortality. The fact that Laura’s mother, Professor Jellicoe, is a lifelong naturist provides a visible memento mori through her ageing body. There are a couple of cruel plot twists – a forgotten conversation and a misdirected letter – which completely skew the outcome, echoing Thomas Hardy and owing a debt to the film Brief Encounter.
Church Times – Sarah Meyrick
Patrick Gale’s bestselling Notes From an Exhibition is a hard act to follow but he gives it his best shot in The Whole Day Through. At 45 Laura Lewis has abandoned her life in Paris to care for her elderly mother in Winchester. There she accidentally bumps into Ben Patterson, the love of her student days. He’s married now but following his mother’s death has moved home to look after his brother Bobby, who has Down’s Syndrome. Laura and Ben are quickly drawn back into a passionate love affair but are they brave enough to seize their second chance of happiness? Poignant and acutely observed.
It is an enormously engaging story about love regained and love lost and, most of all, acceptance with grace of what life offers.
Beige – Peter Burton
This is another enjoyable and thought-provoking book from a writer who peels the layers from people and situations with great care and compassion. From the opening sentence, the reader is drawn into Laura’s life and needs to know every why and wherefore. Although we meet and follow all the protagonists throughout the course of one day, starting with early morning tea and ending with nightcap, there are many revealing flashbacks that drive the story along. As with another classic and timeless story, grit, or in this case, gravel, plays an important role in a tale of love, love lost and, maybe, love rediscovered. Laura and Ben meet when they are students, fall in love and lust, then go their separate ways. When they meet again many years later, much has happened to alter their lives, yet familiar, confused feelings begin to draw them together. However, they are no longer carefree students with few responsibilities. Ben is married and has the care of his younger brother Bobby, who has the Mosaic variant of Down’s Syndrome. Laura lives with her elderly mother – known only as Mummy – a beautifully drawn character who is wise, learned and a naturist. It is no good trying to guess where Gale will take the actors in this poignant drama. Expect the unexpected, as he leads his readers through a labyrinth of emotions, some strange, some very familiar. His books always have an unpredictable thread running through them. The only certainty is that one will discover aspects of relationships hitherto unknown, or perhaps ignored. The Whole Day Through is set in Winchester and, as in other novels by Gale, provides the reader with a fascinating walk around the place – this time where he, himself was raised. This provides another dimension to a story which, once read, settles in the memory like a cherished piece of music.
Cornish World – Pat Quayle
Middle-class melancholia has long been the subject matter of Patrick Gale’s fiction. Here he examines a familiar mid-life dilemma: “Did I make the right choice?” Laura Lewis, an accountant in her forties, has returned to Winchester to care for her elderly mother. It’s while taking “Mummy” to a hospital appointment that she bumps into Ben, a boyfriend from her Oxford days. Set over the course of a June day, this novel shows Laura (single), and Ben (married) caught between a rock, a hard place and a cathedral-close hotel. This may not be as substantial as the recent bestseller, Notes from an Exhibition, but Gale’s prose slips down smoothly.
The Independent – Emma Hagestadt
Reading a book by Patrick Gale is like having a long gossipy conversation about people he knows very well. It’s what I like most about his books, the sense that he really cares about his characters and their lives. Gale is never dispassionate. You find out all kinds of unexpected things about his protagonists, and there is always one person you start out disliking and end up understanding – or the other way around. There are always brief appearances of people you feel would merit books of their own if only Gale had time to write them all. The Whole Day Through is no exception. With characteristic skill, Gale sketches the lives of Laura, a freelance accountant who takes care of her aging mother, and Ben, a doctor who is temporarily living with his brother, who has Down syndrome. Twenty years ago, Laura and Ben were lovers. Now they have met again by chance and the stage seems set for a joyful reunion. The story is told through Ben and Laura’s memories as Gale takes us through a single day of their lives, and gradually we learn that things are more complicated than they seem, and that the ties that bind the couple are not just those to the people they are busy caring for now. In the wings, Ben’s marriage is breaking down (though his wife thinks not) and his brother Bobby acquires a life of his own. The blurb and cover of this book – and we can probably thank the publisher for that – suggest that it is only Laura’s story, a woman’s book. But it’s not that, or not only. The Whole Day Through is about two people and how their lives come together and fall apart. A story that leaves you thoughtful. And there is a surprise in store if you think – as I did – that there isn’t much you can do with a plot squeezed into a single day.
The American Book Center Blog – Em Angevaare
Ben and Laura, the protagonists of Gale’s wistful novel, were once an item at university, until he married somebody else. Having settled into the unglamorous careers of genito-urinary medicine and accountancy respectively, the pair cross paths years later when Laura answers the call of duty to help care for her mother in Winchester. Here she briefly re-encounters Ben (conveniently minus his wife) who is looking after his Down’s syndrome-sufferer gay brother. It is soon apparent that a spark still exists between them, and during the course of a summer’s day, memories are revisited, hearts, souls and consciences searched, and second chances fleetingly emerge. The author is unfailingly adept at delineating low-level domestic conflicts, and in this instance his fluid telescoping of past and present adds to the mood of quiet poignancy. That said, however, there are swathes of the novel where Gale seems to be going through the motions as much as the emotions, making his thwarted romantics feel as transient as the day itself.
The Sunday Times – Trevor Lewis
A bittersweet tale of what happens when you’re torn between duty and desire.
Laura and Ben knew the joys of first love when they were students together. When they meet again after a 20-year separation the time that they’ve spent apart seems to fall away. But although their desire for each other is simple, their lives are complex, and the recurring question is whether their love can survive the burdens and pressures of their other commitments. This mature, delicate and perceptive novel is full of empathy and refuses to simply judge or condemn. There is a sense of considered inevitability about Gale’s conclusions as he leads us with true writerly skill through the experiences of his diverse cast of characters.
Patrick Gale produces finely observed confections with an undertow of trouble that appeal to the chattering classes. Surface pleasures are lightly weighted with issues (disability, sexuality, mental health), while a tendency towards melancholic self-examination provides ballast to the conversations, professional lives and dietary habits of a cast of largely privileged intelligentsia. Gale had rumbled on, quietly and dependably trailing a small following, for 23 years. Then, with his recent Richard and Judy bestseller Notes from an Exhibition, he broke through to an entirely new readership. This, his 15th novel, is the follow-up, and although the pressure is on to be commercially successful, he doggedly inhabits the quieter recesses of his comfort zone. The Whole Day Through is a restrained novel, its pitch steady, unremarkable and firmly tethered to reality. Laura Lewis, now in her mid-40s, has moved from a life of independence and dead-end affairs in Paris to care for her mother at home in Winchester. She is a self-employed accountant on a small income, and her mothers house provides accommodation otherwise unaffordable to her, while she in turn has saved the osteoporosis-stricken but mentally still brilliant Professor Jellicoe from the indignities of an institution. Childhood legacies tend to be thoroughly examined by Gale as the basis of his characters psyches, and Laura’s upbringing as the accidental offspring of a pair of academics – Islington-dwelling eccentrics and enthusiastic naturists – has left her sexually uninhibited but invested with a certain coldness. She has dated married men and failed to find commitment, her adult life “mapped out in relationships not achievements”. While attending a hospital appointment with her mother, Laura bumps into Ben, her boyfriend from her time as an Oxford undergraduate, and agrees to have dinner with him. Ben, formerly an HIV consultant, now working in more basic genito-urinary medicine, has also returned to Winchester in the guise of carer, in this case for a gay younger brother with Mosaic Downs Syndrome. At university Ben had dumped Laura after a period of passion and domesticity, nominally for the sake of his medical studies – only to date the decorative but mildly dim Chloe, his future wife. At the point at which he runs into Laura again, Ben has used his brothers trauma over their mothers death as an excuse to escape the incompatibilities of his 20-year marriage. Living in a limbo with reduced career opportunities while Chloe waits in London for him to resolve their problems, Ben is determined to be honourable, yet hides behind his role as carer. The novel follows the stories of Laura’s and Ben’s pasts, the two narrative strands inexorably inching towards each other, and is loosely structured around the events of one summer’s day. Gale’s use of time is so seamless that decades are crossed and encapsulated without resort to either obvious flashback or chronological signposting. This time travelling is so effective that only chapter headings remind the reader of the single day that shapes the novel, the intricacy of the conjuring act apparent only retrospectively. Ben and Laura’s resuscitated affair is restricted by family commitments, and Laura finds herself creeping round her mother like a disobedient child. Beneath the weariness, pragmatism and even ridiculousness of this relationship of later life, true love clearly simmers but searches for expression. In the novel’s one mild ruffle of drama, Ben’s brother inadvertently dispatches the draft of a love letter to the wrong recipient, and the narrative is forced to twist, throwing up questions of romance versus duty. As a “good man”, Ben shows that the humdrum must often take precedence over the exalted. The Whole Day Through is about obligation, missed opportunity, and the danger of ending up with the wrong person. This is a wry, clever, faultlessly crafted mini-soap threaded with sadness. It is beautifully written, precisely nuanced and assured. Very little happens, yet it rolls along, all Proms on the radio, good food, yesterday’s Rioja, and a gay twist thrown in. Gale is an empathetic writer with an impressive knowledge of how minds and relationships work. In its theme and tone, The Whole Day Through is reminiscent of Tessa Hadley’s The Master Bedroom. In fact, Gale’s prose style and preoccupations strongly echo Hadley’s, without the latter’s class flexibility. Both novelists reflect a demographic and its concerns: the care of long-lived parents by offspring in early middle age – hardly an inviting subject but an increasingly common one. Generally hovering between Jilly Cooper and Alan Hollinghurst, Gale produces the perfect Dordogne read. He can barely be faulted for what he does, his sparkling clean realism delicious while it lasts.
The Guardian – Joanna Briscoe