It is part of the appeal of Gale’s novel that the possibility that his protagonist may be a murderer is treated as dispassionately as the certainty that he married in haste… The title indicates an overarching metaphor, but the image of the family as organic, rooted and connected despite age, the loss of branches, or separation of offshoots, is built cumulatively and by implication, without the need for the author to spell it out. One of the pleasures of the novel is this combination of fastidiousness and seriousness. For all the cattily observant writing, Gale’s underlying moral world has an old-fashioned feel to it. His characters are redeemed by romantic love, by having children or by discovering (approximations of) the family unit. The paraphernalia of Tree Surgery for Beginners may be of the moment but the hopefulness of the narrative and the solidity of its central character make it a lasting creation.

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