Patrick Gale takes up the elements of the 18th century comic novel – abandoned babies, characters in disguise, the wanderings of a feckless youth – and recombines them into an elegant romance that manages to be both playful and wise. In prose of sparkling precision, Gale serves up misadventures – satirical, farcical and tragic – that embroil not only our hero but his entire extended family. True to its essentially comedic vision, the novel ends with lots of identities revealed and multiple happy pairings of all persuasions. With its subtle interplay of dark and light elements, Tree Surgery for Beginners is infused with a smiling, Mozartean sensibility, reminding us that we can “go so awry, break so utterly apart and still find the strength to continue”.

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