Review: Take Nothing With You

What do you do, though, when you read a book that you know is very likely to be your book of the year and you want to shout from the rooftops about how utterly fantastically brilliant it is and yet know that nothing you could ever say would ever come close to making your point?

Well, you write your blog post anyway don’t you and accept that if it’s just going to be a keysmashing capslocking mess then so be it – it’s the thought that counts.

Basically if you are not ready to read Patrick Gale’s new novel Take Nothing With You when it is released next week, and also to love it, then I cannot help you: you are doing life wrong.

I love Patrick Gale.

Not in an actual love way, obviously, because I have never met him and that would be weird and terrifying, but in an every word he writes is magic and speaks to my soul kind of a way. I don’t like to name favourite writers because I like lots of books and decisions are hard but if you forced me, with the threat of no coffee ever again, then I would say that Patrick Gale is up there.

Don’t know much about him? HAVE YOU BEEN LIVING UNDER A ROCK.

I’m sorry; that was judgey.  

Read A Place Called Winter and watch Man in the Orange Shirt and then come back to me and we’ll chat.

He’s just…he’s a special kind of writer to me, a writer that understands words and stories and the people that read them. I was so excited when I found out he had a new book out this summer and made some kind of weird inhuman noise when a copy of it landed on my doormat and I was SO PREPARED to love it.

Sometimes there’s a plot twist here, when I have been prepared to love a book and then haven’t actually loved it at all.

Not this time.

I loved this book.

Lemme tell you the deal.

It’s about Eustace (and yes I did google how to  pronounce that correctly you can go right ahead and judge me) – partly Eustace’s story now, at the tentative beginning of a relationship with a man he’s met online and about to undergo treatment for cancer, but mostly Eustace’s story then, as a boy growing up in the care home his parents have turned his home into, and his steps towards discovering who he is, a lot of which comes about because of his cello lessons and it, it’s just REALLY GOOD OK. It’s an incredible social commentary that perfectly walks the tightrope between comedy and tragedy and it just feels…real. Like, nothing here feels contrived or like it’s trying to force you to think or feel a certain thing, which, I mean you do think and feel certain things, but there’s nothing sanctimonious here you know? It’s open and it’s chest-tighteningly tender and whilst not sad, it’s still kind of heartbreaking at the same time as making me incredibly incredibly happy. It’s kind of joyous this book, even as it makes you ache. Even, actually, as it makes you angry and wow sometimes it made me SO ANGRY that I had to put it down and take a breath. I didn’t want it to end and HOLY BOOK HNAGOVER, BATMAN I did not know what to read next once it had.

There’s a lot of music – Eustace is a cellist – and I loved that, loved it to the point that I wanted to dig out my clarinet which has been untouched for around 18 years. The music is the thread that holds the whole book together and it’s so gorgeously gorgeously done; you could hear the music, you could feel the weight of the cello, you were there in that room where Carla showed Eustace how to fall in love with his instrument, there at the summer school where he learned so much more than just how to play.

Which brings me to my next point. There’s also a lot of self-discovery here, which is a theme throughout a lot of Gale’s work, actually: Eustace is discovering his sexuality and his love for music and his place in the world but I think for me, more than anything this book is about….power? The power of love and the power of self-belief and the power of music and the power of growing up with people who believe in you and also the power of influences, even those (especially those) influences that are the opposite of good.

I don’t even know how to tell you how much I loved it. It’s exquisite.