Audiobook of the Week

Mother’s Boy opens in 1941 as a navy coder named Charles receives news of a vessel that has sunk in the Denmark Strait, and realises his boyhood friend – “his best friend, arguably” – was on the ship. A fictionalised account of the life of the poet Charles Causley, Mother’s Boy then jumps back in time to the first meeting of his laundress mother, Laura, and his father, Charlie, a groom and gardener. After the couple are married, Charlie goes to war, leaving his wife to raise their baby son alone in Launceston, Cornwall. Laura is ferociously protective of young Charles, who is quiet, bespectacled and bookish. When Charlie returns from the war, he is laid low with tuberculosis and father and son strike up an uneasy rapport. But when Charlie dies it is almost a relief for Laura and Charles to find themselves alone once more.

The book’s author, Patrick Gale, is the narrator, skilfully navigating his protagonists’ Cornish accents and providing a tender and intimate evocation of the maternal bond, and of a young man intent on keeping his true self hidden. In the author’s note, Gale reveals how he drew on Causley’s diaries and poems to build a portrait that is based on fact but used “fiction and conjecture to fill the gaps in stories that history and discretion left blank”. It’s with great poignance that the recording ends with Gale reading Causley’s poem Angel Hill, in which a sailor back from war visits an old flame hoping to rekindle their affair and is rejected: “I heard him sing as he strolled away / You’ll send in your fetch for me one fine day / No, never, said I.”
Fiona Sturges

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