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Take Nothing With You

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From the bestselling author of A Place Called Winter comes a new novel of boyhood, coming of age, and the confusions of desire and reality. For all readers of Ian McEwan's Atonement or L P Hartley's The Go-Between.

1970s Weston-Super-Mare and ten-year-old oddball Eustace, an only child, has life transformed by his mother's quixotic decision to sign him up for cello lessons. Music-making brings release for a boy who is discovering he is an emotional volcano. He laps up lessons from his young teacher, not noticing how her brand of glamour is casting a damaging spell over his frustrated and controlling mother.

When he is enrolled in holiday courses in the Scottish borders, lessons in love, rejection, and humility are added to daily practice.

Drawing in part on his own boyhood, Patrick Gale's new novel explores a collision between childish hero worship and extremely messy adult love lives.

310 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 20, 2018

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About the author

Patrick Gale

45 books637 followers
Patrick was born on 31 January 1962 on the Isle of Wight, where his father was prison governor at Camp Hill, as his grandfather had been at nearby Parkhurst. He was the youngest of four; one sister, two brothers, spread over ten years. The family moved to London, where his father ran Wandsworth Prison, then to Winchester. At eight Patrick began boarding as a Winchester College Quirister at the cathedral choir school, Pilgrim's. At thirteen he went on to Winchester College. He finished his formal education with an English degree from New College, Oxford in 1983.

He has never had a grown-up job. For three years he lived at a succession of addresses, from a Notting Hill bedsit to a crumbling French chateau. While working on his first novels he eked out his slender income with odd jobs; as a typist, a singing waiter, a designer's secretary, a ghost-writer for an encyclopedia of the musical and, increasingly, as a book reviewer.

His first two novels, The Aerodynamics of Pork and Ease were published by Abacus on the same day in June 1986. The following year he moved to Camelford near the north coast of Cornwall and began a love affair with the county that has fed his work ever since.

He now lives in the far west, on a farm near Land's End with his husband, Aidan Hicks. There they raise beef cattle and grow barley. Patrick is obsessed with the garden they have created in what must be one of England's windiest sites and deeply resents the time his writing makes him spend away from working in it. As well as gardening, he plays both the modern and baroque cello. His chief extravagance in life is opera tickets.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 345 reviews
Profile Image for Marianne.
3,499 reviews179 followers
October 14, 2018
“There was … an awed hush as she sat back on her piano stool, thrust out a shapely sandalled foot to her left, gazed up at the top left-hand reaches of the church, took an audible breath as though about to sing, and began to play.
She didn’t simply play the notes; she played as though urgently communicating. Listen! her playing said. This really matters!”

Take Nothing With You is the sixteenth novel by award-winning British author, Patrick Gale. In his fifties, after a concerning diagnosis and the resultant surgery, Eustace finds himself in isolation for some 48 hours. He has been advised to bring only what he can leave behind, and intends to fill the time reading a novel, but his close friend Naomi has planned ahead, presenting him with a disposable MP3 player loaded with cello pieces. Some are new to him; others are old favourites that flood him with memories of his youth.

Relieved of some rather unsuccessful lessons with an uninspiring teacher on a second-hand clarinet, the music recital that introduces eleven-year-old Eustace to the cello is a life-changing moment. And the idea that the beautiful and talented Carla Gold will give him lessons fills him with an overwhelming joy. Eustace has found his first love.

During his obligatory seclusion, when he is not immersed in the memories of his adolescence and those first-time encounters with love and passion, with music and sex, Eustace muses on his new love, Theo. The reader also gets glimpses of the life Eustace has led following those momentous years, the milestone events that have brought him to this point in his life.

Gale populates his novel with a marvellous cast of characters: many are kind and generous; some are staggeringly single-minded; others disappoint with their behaviour, being selfish, cruel or abusive. Eustace, though, is easy to love: an earnest boy on the cusp of teenage whose naïveté is utterly delightful.

Gale’s descriptive prose is often exquisite: the significant moments in Eustace’s life are so beautifully depicted, often poignant, sometimes joyful, that the reader cannot help, at times, but form a lump in the throat; some passages are bound to have the reader seeking out recordings of cello music. The Cloggies will appreciate the mention of Dutch treats; and the pasta sauce recipe cries out to be tried. More please, Mr Gale!
Profile Image for Anne.
2,133 reviews1,053 followers
June 30, 2018
I am a huge fan of Patrick Gale's writing. He's very hard to generalise and this week I've described as a bit like a male Maggie O'Farrell or Sarah Waters. His last book; A Place Called Winter was one of my favourite books of 2015, he creates magic with words.

Take Nothing With You is Eustace's story and begins as he contemplates the fact that he's fallen in love, for the third time and also has cancer. Eustace is in his fifties and is wealthy and successful, he's not yet actually met Theo, the man he's fallen for. Their relationship has been played out over the internet as Theo is serving in the military. Eustace hasn't told Theo about his diagnosis. Only his best friend Naomi is aware of everything.

Eustace begins his radiotherapy treatment, in a lead-lined room, with nothing except a paperback book, a TV screen and an MP3 player full of music put together by Naomi. It is this cello music that evokes memories in Eustace and takes him, and the reader back to his childhood in Weston Super Mare.

Eustace, as a child, is unlike the adult man. He's awkward, living in a large gothic house filled with elderly people (his parents run a residential home), and isn't really sure of what or who he is. When his mother suggests that he take up music lessons and he begins to play the clarinet, he's still not sure if it's the right thing for him. When he abandons the clarinet due to his teacher's arrest for 'child fiddling', and he discovers the cello instead that he realises the beauty and power of music, and falls in love for the first time.

The novel follows Eustace as he totally dedicates his life to his cello lessons. Things at home are difficult, his parents' relationship is fraught and becomes more difficult as time goes on. Eustace is also discovering his sexuality, and his struggle with that is beautifully and sensitively portrayed.

Whilst Eustace is the lead character here, Patrick Gale's supporting characters are so beautifully created that at times, they almost steal the show from Eustace. His cello teacher, and her friends; the boys at school; his mother and Naomi; the girl who becomes his best friend and stays by his side until adulthood.

This is Eustace's story of survival in a world that seems to have so many barriers for him. There are some incredibly sad and emotional parts, but there's a wonderful wit and humour within the writing that keeps the story from becoming too dark and too anguished.

I can't say any more. I don't really have the words to express just how much I loved this book. It's not fast-paced or action filled, with twists and turns. It is however, so tender, so insightful and full of love. The power of love; the power of music and the power of kind and influential adults upon a young boy.

Intelligent, warm, cleverly structured. A novel to cherish and to shout about. Fabulous, just fabulous.
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 2 books2,952 followers
April 26, 2020
This was a truly incredible novel - beautiful, warm, clever and intensely moving. I love Patrick Gale's writing so, so much.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
686 reviews3,397 followers
August 14, 2018
Patrick Gale's new novel “Take Nothing With You” is a refreshing new take on a coming of age story. At the beginning we first meet the protagonist Eustace in his later years. At this stage of his life he's begun a promising new relationship with Theo, a fairly senior army officer stationed far away, and, though their connection has progressed from a dating app to regular Skype conversations, they've not yet met in person. But Eustace has also been diagnosed with cancer and needs radiation treatment which requires him to remain in temporary solitude within a lead-lined room where he can take nothing with him that isn't disposable. It's the first example of how the title of this novel resonates so strongly throughout a life marked by stages which require abandoning physical things and one form of identity to progress onto another. The bulk of this tale is concerned with Eustace's childhood and adolescence as he discovers a love of music and other boys. The story poignantly demonstrates the courage that is required to declare your true desires and to express your creativity even if it goes against the grain of the majority. It also shows the importance of role models to foster young people’s creativity and to assist in helping them to grow and flourish.

Read my full review of Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Nigel.
849 reviews98 followers
September 30, 2020
One thing's wrong with this - I wanted more!! This is the story of parts of Eustace's life. It starts in current times however much of the book relates to his early years both pre teen and early teens. He is a boy who doesn't really fit in very well. He then discovers the cello and an outstanding teacher. It is this love of a musical instrument that - for me - shows just what an excellent writer Patrick Gale is. He brings the small aspects of Eustace's life alive and creates vivid pictures from both small and large events. Probably not for anyone who has issues with homosexuality so you have been warned :).

I loved this book - a Place Called Winter it is not - that was stunning however it is still a very good read 4.5/5 but happily rounded because I loved it and it brought a tear to my eye!
Profile Image for Thomas.
214 reviews118 followers
January 7, 2020
Gay coming of age novel with lots of classical music gossip. I loved this book.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
1,129 reviews12 followers
November 29, 2018
I’ve read all Gale’s recent novels, since I heard him speak at Adelaide Writers Week a few years back. He doesn’t disappoint. I kept wanting to return to this novel, a sure sign of a good book for me.

This is a coming of age novel. Eustace gradually realises that he is not only different from other boys because of his lack of sporting ability but also because he is gay. Gale writes with great empathy about Eustace and with a clear eye about his family, friends and music teachers. There is a lot that we as readers understand that Eustace does not - as yet at least.

The other strand of the novel is the reflections of the 50 year old Eustace who is undergoing radiotherapy for cancer and can ‘take nothing with him’ into a lead lined room during his treatment. The only thing he has is cello music from his friend Naomi, which reminds him of how he learned the cello as a young man and of the joy that music has given him all his life. He is also waiting to meet a lover he has only known online until now.

The contemporary scenes did not engage me as much as those of the young Eustace, but overall the novel was very effective and enjoyable. There are dark elements within it, as there always are when a good writer explores the human condition; they added to my appreciation.
Profile Image for Lydia Bailey.
371 reviews15 followers
August 18, 2019
It’s not every day you find a new favourite author but I knew from about 3 pages in to this that I had. What a great ‘voice’ Patrick Gale has & his characters are so very real and rounded they really do leap off the page.

I’m not even going to review the plot as it I wouldn’t be able to make it sound as interesting as it undeniably is, the skilful & layered writing brings the whole story alive. I love a ‘real’ story involving people we could so easily be related to or living next door to. Yes, it is pretty graphic in places but this is a coming of age story & it’s all in context. I really enjoyed it & am sorry to have finished. I’m not at all sure how his other books have escaped me but I can now feel an amazon order coming on!!
Profile Image for Tripfiction.
1,647 reviews197 followers
September 7, 2019
Heartening and intelligent novel set in WESTON SUPER MARE and BRISTOL (UK)

This is the story of Eustace (what an excellent and choice name for this beguiling and delightful lead character). The story is a wonderfully blended, dual timeline story: Eustace, now in his 50s and living in London, is embarking on a new relationship with Theo and being treated for thyroid cancer. Back in the 1970s, as a young teenager and gifted cellist, he is gently learning who he is and where his place in the world might… he is looking for his people, whoever they are.

The author excellently portrays slightly off kilter situations that imbue the narrative with a wry element. In the 1970s Eustace is living with his parents in a large, inherited house in Weston-Super-Mare and in order to make ends meet, his parents have converted much of their accommodation into an old people’s home, counting his paternal grandmother amongst the residents. His parents’ marriage is not an altogether happy one and when they need to finance Eustace’s cello instruction to the next level, it comes under further stress.

His musical talent is brought out by his teacher Carla Gold. She organises a beautiful cello for him to play and he goes on to accompany her on a Friday to stay with two gay friends in Bristol, Louis and Ebrahim. Their lifestyle – from the food, the artistic vibe and living environment – is a revelation to Eustace. His mother is also there to keep an eye on things, ostensibly….

His capabilities mean he is entered for a scholarship at Clifton College and he is invited to attend classes in the Borders. As he mixes with new people and makes friends, he gradually comes to understand who he is and what he is about. In his early years, however, he really does need a hug. The author clearly sculpts Eustace as a young LGBT boy, feeling different to his peers. Some of Eustace’s experiences (as the author writes at the end of the novel) are informed by the author’s time at Winchester College, where he was subjected to bullying. The portrayal of a diligent, lovely little boy, with all the childhood angst and determination is really quite masterful.

I have now learned more about the cello, have delighted in the music that leaps from the pages and I found myself at times smiling at some of the situations and interchanges; at other times feeling sad at. It is a heartening, poignant and intelligent tale, told with warmth and grace. It is always a pleasure to read a novel crafted Patrick Gale.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
930 reviews42 followers
August 31, 2019
I do love Patrick Gale's books. Each one seems better than the last at the moment, which doesn't always happen, even with the very best authors.

Take Nothing With You is the story of Eustace, about to undergo treatment in hospital that will have him in an isolation room for 24 hours. He has recently fallen in love over the internet with a semi-closeted soldier, but has not said anything about his illness to him, even though he is expected to return from his overseas posting just after Eustace is released from hospital. Accompanying him is an MP3 player with recordings his best friend made during her career as a cello soloist. This is the vehicle by which we visit Eustace's boyhood in Weston Super Mare, and learn about his first loves, his own beginnings as a cellist and the dramas that evolve in his family's life. The details associated with the 1970s will undoubtedly resonate with anyone who experienced them (as I did), and the book brought to mind a fair few half-forgotten memories.

Patrick Gale writes brilliantly about music. He doesn't shy away from technical aspects, or discussing particular pieces within the context of the novel, but he always keeps it accessible, and like with all good novels, you come away having learnt something new. The plots from the two time frames develop at a steady pace, and there is even an unexpected OMG! moment at the end of one of the later chapters (typically just when I had to leave for work) which kept me on tenterhooks until I could pick up the book again. A satisfying ending and a warm feeling is what I have come to expect from Patrick Gale, and although there are a lot of heartbreaking moments along the way, this is what we get. A truly entertaining novel.
Profile Image for Megan Jones.
1,292 reviews18 followers
October 2, 2018
Ten-year-old oddball Eustace, an only child, as his life transformed by his mother’s decision to sign him up for cello lessons. Music-making brings release for a boy who is discovering he is an emotional volcano. He laps up lessons from his young teacher, not noticing how her glamour is casting a damaging spell over his frustrated and controlling mother. When he is enrolled on a holiday course in Scotland, lessons in love, rejection and humility are added to daily practice.
As is typical from Gale this is a well written novel, looking at a boy’s upbringing as he goes in for treatment as an older adult. Gale built up a picture of Eustace and by starting as a child and then showing you progression, the reader gains a good understanding of who he is. My problem with this novel is it just is not for me. I cannot really fault one thing about it, I just could not get into it and I struggled to finish it. I enjoyed how Gale has written it and I even enjoyed the exploration of teenage angst and how music has always helped Eustace in his life. However, there was nothing in this novel to inspire me to keep reading and I was glad to be finished with it.
I cannot really say much more, I personally did not like it but I am sure others will. Gale has written this very well and I liked the character he has created, this is just not my kind of enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Connie Rea.
488 reviews89 followers
March 2, 2019
The thing about Patrick Gale is that he is so tender and quiet as he just rips your heart to shreds. He does so in such gentle ways that you are completely caught unawares. You think you're doing fine and then you just find yourself holding your blooded heart in your hands. Yet, it was done with such love and tenderness that you don't even mind. That you're somehow glad to have some sort of remembrance and proof of what just happened.

No one, I repeat, no one writes like PG does...or at least I've never found anyone like him. He proves time and time again that you don't need surprising plot twists or non stop action to keep a reader engaged. You don't have to make a character remarkable or stand outside of a crowd...all you have to do is make them real. Gale does this. He makes them all so real that you hurt for them. He doesn't have to speak of their isolation or their loneliness. He doesn't have to tell the reader that they feel different from anyone else...you just know it because you can FEEL it...

I never finish a PG novel...long after I turn the last page I still find myself spending time with the amazing people he's made a part of my life...
693 reviews3 followers
September 13, 2018
Loved this so much, Patrick Gale has written another exquisite book that was so wonderful that I almost re-read it straight away so I could get lost in his wonderful prose again. The story is about a young man's journey of self discovery and self acceptance facilitated by his learning of the cello. Through his passion for music and learning how to play well he finds acceptance and a community he doesn't have at home, with a twist that made me gasp out loud. As usual Patrick Gale writes so beautifully and his own knowledge and love of playing the cello shines through, a wonderful book that will make you want to listen to classical cello pieces.
Profile Image for Tracey.
85 reviews
October 1, 2018
This is the 2nd Patrick Gale novel I have read and I loved it just as much. The coming of age story of Eustace told in two timeframes when he’s a young boy and a man in his fifties with the learning and playing of the cello being a major thing in his life. Beaufifully written and very emotional. Really loved the character of Eustace.
Profile Image for Virginia.
988 reviews117 followers
June 11, 2022
Bring nothing with you that you don’t mind leaving behind.
This is steadfast Eustace’s story, from beginning to end, as he’s launched (and occasionally misdirected) into the world as a very young man. He’s looking back, as a middle-aged man undergoing radiation treatment, and truly he "made no attempt to hide his scars, but preferred not to dwell on the claws that had left them.” He and his family seemed initially to have shunned the church, although his mother suffers an unfortunate and horrifyingly distructive case of religious mania later in the book. She is not, as some misogynistic wretch reported in the cover blurb, a “difficult and controlling” woman in any way, and up until her spurious conversion, was exactly the opposite. I just loved her, even at her worst. Every character here, primary and secondary, is completely drawn and easily imaginable, even those who appear for only a paragraph. A number of them are surprising and memorable, which seems to be a hallmark of this author’s characters. Ben’s brother Bobby from The Whole Day Through still exists in my memory, and Eustace will stay with me as well (along with Louis’ tomato sauce recipe.)
Ironically, the book’s title reminded me instantly of the instructions Jesus gave his 12 apostles before sending them out into the world., and we all know what happened to them.
This is going on my “keep and reread” pile, totally worth the 5 stars I’m giving it. In fact the only thing I disliked about this book is that the damn thing ended.
Profile Image for Stephen Goldenberg.
Author 3 books48 followers
July 4, 2019
It’s strange that I’ve never read anything by Patrick Gale before and I only read this because he is coming to talk about it at my local literary festival in south-west France in October. I will definitely be reading more of his novels.
It’s a coming of age story in which a middle aged Eustace, undergoing cancer treatment, reminisces about his childhood and adolescence. His strange upbringing in an old peoples’ home in Weston-Super-Mer, run by his parents is very well described. And he’s writing about two subjects he clearly knows a great deal about- growing up gay and learning the cello. His early homosexual encounters are touching as is his relationship with Carla and Jean, two very powerful women cello teachers.
Another very clever novelist’s trick that Gale uses effectively is to allow the reader to immediately know the secret behind Eustace’s mother’s car crash and subsequent mental breakdown while Eustace himself remains in the dark.
For me, there were two weak points in the novel. Firstly, his current, unlikely, relationship by Skype with Theo, a young soldier and, secondly, as someone who is fairly unmusical, I found the wealth of detail about the technicalities of cello playing rather too much.
Profile Image for Elaine.
504 reviews41 followers
August 1, 2018
Take nothing with you is a story about Eustace, his childhood, his love of the cello, his later life and loves. Set in Weston Super Mare, Eustace's story is told via two timelines, his early childhood and his later life where he is living with HIV and being treated for thyroid cancer. He is falling in love with a soldier deployed overseas. Music and the cello form the backdrop to this book, as Eustace takes up lessons as a child and develops a love for both. The book is beautifully written and, like the descriptions of the music convey throughout, is an intelligent, passionate, emotional and ultimately satisfying read.

With thanks to Mr Gale and Publicity Books for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Michael Brown.
Author 6 books20 followers
December 7, 2019
One of Patrick Gale's best novels. You are reading along, picking up on little clues and foreshadowing that there is something under the surface making the story even more intricate than previous works and then the book takes an unexpected turn and a rather unassuming character does something unforgivably wicked. There is a lot of music theory that seems authentic and lovingly rendered providing us with a bildungsroman somewhat in the Oliver Twist style that seems close to the author's heart. Highly recommended and again, one of his best.
Profile Image for Doug.
2,043 reviews743 followers
September 26, 2018
How someone can turn the story of a boy's love for his cello into such an enthralling page-turner is beyond me, but Patrick Gale, I am convinced, can do anything. As always, his prose is a pleasure to read, his characters are individual and quirky, and he balances the humor and pathos to a T. Thank goodness I have a huge Gale backlist still to get through, as he can't write them quickly enough for me.
Profile Image for Frances.
269 reviews3 followers
August 20, 2020
An excellent book for a young boy who is wondering about his sexuality and is also interested in music and the cello in particular....unfortunately I fit neither of those criteria so did not fully engage with it.
Profile Image for Amanda.
23 reviews
January 8, 2019
Beautiful read -evocative of place and leaves little to the imagination about sticky adolescence.
266 reviews3 followers
December 6, 2020
I'm a great admirer of Patrick Gale's writing, and his latest offering does nothing to change that. Eustace, an only child with the wisdom to know how to survive as he realises he is not quite like most other boys.The account flits between Eustace in his childhood and youth and the much older man facing health worries while at the same time hopeful of finding new love.

Through Gale's clear, straightforward prose that is a pleasure in itself, he conjures Eustace's private world, while avoiding the cliches of many a writer might employ to create unnecessary drama. Thankfully free of such we can safely enjoy following Eustace, his passions, and his few loyal and very interesting friends on his route to maturity.

There is much I loved about the story, primarily that sense of being totally drawn into Eustace's life, while along the way discovering little gems. The musician in Gale, and also one might add teacher, is more than apparent when, through the channel of his creation, a renowned cellist, he elaborates on Schubert's String Quintet, a work I have long loved and of which I now have a vastly greater appreciation following Gayle's account. On a more mundane level I am keen to try that simple pasta sauce recipe.

The novel concludes leaving us perhaps to determine Eustace's future, and with a slight mystery of the identity of the other person who enters his mother's life, although there are pointers.

I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this book, one of those books I wish could just go on forever.
Profile Image for Angela.
250 reviews1 follower
September 23, 2018
Patrick Gale's writing is exquisite. I haven't read many of his novels but each one I have read has been perfectly told, at just the right pace with a large dose of compassion and tenderness.

Eustace is an only child but he wasn't his parents' only child. Much of his insecurities stem from the fact that he survived when his siblings didn't, although he doesn't know that from his parents. The story begins with Eustace as an adult just having been told he has cancer. He has also just fallen in love and doesn't know if he can tell his new love of his recent diagnosis. We mostly see Eustace growing up in the old peoples' home where he lives with his mother and father. He's a bit of a strange young boy; he enjoys ballet but when his father is angry after seeing him 'prancing around' he is forced to change course and learns to play the cello. Eustace has a gift for music and becomes quite an impressive young player.

Eustace's mother is remote and fragile until she starts taking Eustace to Bristol at the weekends to stay with Carla his cello teacher, and her two gay friends. Mother becomes more alive than ever she is at home and Eustace sees a wonderful new side to his mother, especially when drinking wine with Carla. Eustace's cello lessons, as well as his private schooling, become a stretch too much for his parents, and at the age of thirteen has to attend the local comprehensive school. He didn't have an easy time at the private school, he is a slightly weird child, and relies heavily on Vernon, his one friend who also moves to the comprehensive with him.

This is a coming of age story which is sad and touching on so many levels. It's not unexpected that Eustace is gay, but in the wrong school with the wrong people he's a jigsaw piece that doesn't fit, but put him in the right setting with musical and artistic people, Eustace flourishes. As he grows, there is tragedy, laughter and raw emotion, until we meet Eustace again with his new love in the present day.

Take Nothing With You is a beautiful literary piece. It's impeccably written by a talented master of the pen and I wouldn't hesitate to pick up any of Patrick Gale's books. Totally recommended.
Profile Image for Beth Bonini.
1,304 reviews282 followers
November 28, 2018
This is my first book by Patrick Gale, but it definitely won’t be my last. I saw him at the Cambridge Literary Festival this past weekend (Nov 25, 2018) and he was an absolute charmer. A good friend of mine has been raving about Notes from an Exhibition for years, and I just regret that I didn’t open that book (which I own) much earlier.

Gale described this book as having two literary “fairy godmothers hovering over” - the two being Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes and L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between. The Ballet Shoes reference is fairly obvious, and is indeed cited in the narration of the book itself: “Since his father’s ban, he had often read his mother’s old copy of Ballet Shoes, no longer enviously dreaming of ballet classes but simply reading ballet as a tidy metaphor for any life of art and discipline.” As a small child, Eustace (the book’s protagonist) had longed to study ballet. Wary of this sign of effeminacy, his parents had steered him towards music - first with unsatisfactory clarinet lessons before he then discovers his true love with the cello. In his talk, Gale mentioned that he believes that music, ballet and gymnastics produce a special kind of resilience in their practioners “because you know you will probably fail.” As a cellist himself, Gale believes that being good at music (but not quite good enough) helped him develop the resilience and discipline necessary for becoming a writer. I’ve not read The Go-Between, but I believe that parallel has to do with the loss of innocence (and discovery of sexuality) and the way the story unfolds.

This is a coming-of-age story, and it was clear from his talk that Gale has mined various aspects of his own childhood (and not just the musical bits) for Eustace’s story. Set in Weston-super-Mare during the 1970s, Eustace lives in a rather grand but faded house on the Royal Crescent which has been turned into a shabby-genteel nursing home. Along with his parents - who have a nervy and strained marriage - he lives with his maternal grandfather and his paternal grandmother. Various things mark Eustace out as “different” from the other boys at his private school - not least of all are his name, his hopelessness at sports and his homosexuality. The development of his musical dedication runs alongside his growing awareness of his own sexuality in a plot line which yields a few surprises, particularly in the last third.

Most of the book is actually told in flashback, along with the accompaniment of music that had been important to Eustace at various stages of his life. When the book begins, Eustace is a 50ish man dealing with the twin shocks of discovering that he has fallen in love (in an entirely online relationship) and that he has to receive radioactive treatment for thyroid cancer. Although there is some interest in discovering what happens to Eustace as a grown man, I wasn’t completely convinced that this “framing” was even necessary to the main plot line - which actually focuses on Eustace’s life between the ages of 8 and 16.

One of Gale’s strengths is characterisation - and he creates appealingly flawed characters, both minor and major, in this novel. Some of my favourites included his grandmother, his best friend Vernon (who loves Trollope, and acts as a carer to his father), Louis and Ebrahim (who give him “discreet lessons” in being gay) and the two female music teachers who inspire him. His mother is selfish and even a bit monstrous, and his father is almost hopelessly weak, but both of them seemed real and never fall into caricature.

I also loved his writing style - which is fluid, funny and full of just enough detail to really make every scene come alive.

4.5 stars for a thoroughly entertaining read.
Profile Image for Andrew Marshall.
Author 32 books51 followers
December 16, 2018
Opening up a new book from Patrick Gale is like bumping into an old friend in the street. You are always pleased to meet them and you know what you are going to get: a warm and compassionate look at the complexity of being alive. 'Take nothing with you' is an easy read and the characters engaging and believable. Unfortunately the story of a young misfit boy finds his feet and his tribe through music lessons is told in flashback. So we know he is not going to become a professional and although there is a question mark about why his relationship with his mother is so cool and distant, there is little to discover and only one or two surprises as the book unfolds.

At the beginning, we meet the adult Eustace just before he goes into hospital for radio therapy. He has began dating a soldier who is on active service in the Middle East but feels he can't tell him about his illness - because they have yet to meet and he doesn't want to burden someone who is also in danger every day. He is about to come over to the UK on his first leave since Eustace started to talk to him on a dating app. So the story starts with plenty of dramatic tension but it soon dissipates in memories about his childhood and coming of age.

So I enjoyed the ride but it is not one of Gale's best books.
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