Patrick Gale’s interests soon become plain in Gentleman’s Relish, his new collection of sixteen short stories. The first tale, The Lesson, shows his detailed knowledge of the staff side of prisons in its sympathetic depiction of the loneliness of a prison governor’s wife. Gale’s father was a prison governor. The next story, Cookery, about the cruel revenge of a gay man on his father who wanted him to play rugby like his brothers, is not the only one of these stories to include a recipe for a dish to delight any gourmet. Gale is clearly a practised and happy cook. After his success as a novelist, he has attended literary festivals, as amusingly depicted in Petals on a Pool, and he knows about agriculture, as shown in The Dark Cutter, about raising cattle, in Making Hay and in the brutal tale, Obedience. The clues to his experience continue – music, caravanning, the travails of old age, gay life and gay dilemmas. He could also be said to have the skills of a court poet, turning out a suitable story to grace a public event. Thus Fourth of July 1862, about Alice dreaming on a river bank while her older sister tries vainly to capture the affections of a mathematician who rows past in his boat, was written to celebrate the anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland. Both Cookery and The Excursion were commissioned for gay anthologies, and two slight but effective stories for the St Endellion Music Festival. Sometimes his facility verges on the trite, and the reader starts to wonder, for example, why it is necessary to catalogue so faithfully old and new methods of wrapping bales of hay. The writing is redeemed, however, by Gale’s vivid, believable characters and by the way he suddenly twists a sunny tale into the macabre, to end on an uneasy note. Eileen, in The Excursion, is a woman who does not want to offend anyone, either the couple who befriend her, or the nice, gay priest at her church whom they detest. The grandmother in Making Hay is a memorable horror, telling her grandchildren, who are visiting her in a residential home, gruesome lies about the origins of their father. Along with the sensitivity – Gale is good on the way men worry about relationships with partners and children – there is an uncomfortable streak of sadism in some of the stories, most evident in Cookery, where there son’s treatment of his father spirals into a vicious fantasy. Gale has a light touch with social commentary but the undertones are often menacing.

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