Patrick Gale’s literary strength is families, their function or disfunction, coping with disasters, or not, or just getting through each day to the next. His 2009 novel, The Whole Day Through is no exception. However, its structure is a little different in that the action takes place over one single day. This also means that there is a lot of back story. In other words, you get decades of stories all thought about by the main characters over the span of one day interspersed with the action of that day.
Basically, it is about four people. Laura is a work at home book keeper keeping mostly artistic types away from their shoe-boxes of random receipts and allowing them to get on with their artistic lives. She is also single and a carer; caring for her academic mother, Professor Jellicoe, a semi-retired virologist whose body is increasingly letting her intellect down. She is also a naturalist and so spends a lot of time at home without any clothes on. Perfectly natural thinks mother and daughter.
Ben, a sexual health doctor is working at a local men’s clinic, locally known as GUM, short for genito-urinary medicine, having forsaken a career in virology to move away from his wife, Chloe, to care for his younger brother Bobby who suffers from the Mosaic variant of Down’s Syndrome. Although ‘suffers’ isn’t quite the word: he has a job in a shop, he’s almost independent, gay, and promiscuous, and it’s entirely possible that he may be embarking on a relationship with a burly train-driver.
Laura and Ben meet accidentally. Even though they are now middle aged, they recognise each other from their hedonistic student days thirty years before when they enjoyed an overwhelming and glorious love affair. So what now? Ben has fallen out of love with his beautiful wife, who, by the way, still loves him, and he is totally amazed at the re-eruption of his love for Laura in all its gloriousness.
But they are now older and wiser. Wiser? They have responsibilities for other people; people who can’t cope on their own. Family. The couple’s decision is to clear the slate, no-matter how painful it might be, tell the truth, and think of themselves. They have to; they love each other so much! Hope gives them succour; regret they’ve had and don’t want it again.
I’m sure Gale spent exhausting hours getting the timing right: juggling the drama of past thoughts with the drama of the present action so that everything fitted into the thoughts and actions of four people over the course of one day. However, it wasn’t really necessary as it all, past and present, swirls around like a rainbow ripple cake you can enjoy without knowing which part comes from or goes where.
It is an example of familial love clashing with romantic love when ultimately they should be both sides of the same page. The plot point around which the ending depends snuck up on me like a naughty younger sibling. Fiction doesn’t always make me gasp but I love it when it does.
You can buy the ebook, and Audiobook – read by Patrick Gale himself – here.