Eustace is middle-aged, musical, HIV-positive and living with his whippet Joyce, when life springs good and bad surprises. First, he finds new love with an army officer serving in the Middle East; and second, he learns that he has cancer. Going into a lead-lined room for radiotherapy, he is told to bring only things that he won’t mind leaving behind. Among his few possessions is an MP3 player of cello music from his friend Naomi. It sets him thinking back over his life, especially his unhappy teens in Weston-super-Mare, where his parents ran an old people’s home and his mother grew increasingly disturbed. Salvation comes in the form of a cello teacher, who opens up a new realm where he meets a bohemian circle, finds his sexuality and, above all, applies himself seriously to music. Gale has a devoted following, with 19 novels under his belt since The Aerodynamics of Pork, in 1985. This warm and humane novel, stopping just short of sentimentality, is not only about love but also the value of art.

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