Breathtakingly rich and real portrayal of a family, more powerful than any melodrama. Artists from Mozart to Cobain have proved through example that great creativity can come with great despair and torment. But while the world enjoys the fruits of their genius, their families live with the tension and fear that can both feed and destroy it. Patrick Gale’s beautiful book looks at the family of Rachel Kelly, a Canadian woman who bursts into the life of Antony, a quiet young Quaker studying at Oxford. Swept into the whirlwind that is Rachel’s life, Antony – and later their three children – can only be dragged along in her wake. Starting with Rachel’s death – of a heart attack during a particularly frenzied painting session in her Penzance studio – the novel skips back and forth in time and perspective: from her meeting her husband in 1960s Oxford to her son Garfield’s comforting yet bloodless one night stand in the wake of his mother’s death, to her daughter Morwenna’s slippery grip on reality, to the death of her son Petroc and the shockwaves it sends through the family. Gale presents a portrait of a family breathtaking in its density and richness. Like Ian McEwan, Gale deals with the ordinary – nothing is as ordinary as a death in a family – yet makes it as compelling as a tale of great adventure. Tiny increments of change and realisation become as seismic as earthquakes with a writer as talented as Gale. So when Rachel’s son Hedley somehow tracks down her sister in Canada, and when the simple yet shocking circumstances of Petroc’s death are revealed, the result is more powerful than any melodrama. Best bit: The hunger you have when you devour the pages. Worst bit: You need stamina, it’s gruelling. Verdict: Four and a half stars

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