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.

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