by Patrick Gale
Reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino
Some books are main courses, great big ribstickers that take a while to digest. The Whole Day Through is more of a sorbet, refreshing and delicious while it lingers on the palate.
Gale’s forte is sensitive writing about relationships and this story, structured loosely around a single summer’s day, focuses on the fractured one between Laura and Ben. University sweethearts they meet again by chance when they are in their forties. By now Laura has a back catalogue of unsatisfactory love affairs and has had to abandon her life in Paris and return home to England to care for her elderly mother.
The pair meet by chance and sparks flare between them. But their falling in love for a second time is only one strand of the story. Gales meanders around the present day, constantly changing direction to follow the thread of a memory or explore an emotion. He takes us back to Laura’s odd childhood with her academic, nudist parents, and to her student fling with Ben and his abandonment of her. He winds through Ben’s past in much the same way.
Gales’ last novel, Notes From An Exhibition, was catapulted up the bestseller charts after being chosen as a summer read by British TV couple Judy and Richard. The pressure must have been on to deliver another commercial success and so you have to admire him for choosing instead to write this quiet, thoughtful story about love, disappointments, and how the past constantly resounds in the present.
Elegance and subtlety are the hallmarks of Gale’s writing. Even when he underscores the story with contemporary issues (there’s a gay, disabled relationship in this one) he does so with the lightest touch. While in some ways there’s a slightness about this slice-of-life style novel, The Whole Day Through is tender, bittersweet and should resonate with many readers. Sometimes sorbet is exactly what you fancy.