REVIEW: Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale

In brief: Just as Eustace falls in love, he’s confronted with cancer. In isolation for radioactive iodine treatment, he reflects on his youth.

The good: Patrick Gale is a beautiful writer.

The not-so-good: I want to know all of your story Eustace!

Why I chose it: Because I knew I would love it – thanks to Hachette for the copy.

Year: 2018

Pages: 346

Publisher: Tinder Press (Hachette)

Setting: England

Rating: 9 out of 10

I’ve never read Patrick Gale before, which is a total mistake. He writes beautiful, haunting prose that evokes a scene perfectly in the reader’s mind. I would say he is the English equivalent of Tim Winton, taking care to detail even the smallest things in his characters’ lives which makes his novels a joy to read. He has a great backlist which I must now devour.

Take Nothing With You can be surmised so simply, but please don’t think that the story is boring. Eustace has found out he has cancer and post-surgery must isolate himself in a hospital room after he consumes radioactive iodine. The problem is that Eustace has just fallen in love and he and Theo will be meeting shortly after his release. Theo also doesn’t know about the cancer. As Theo is isolated in his hospital room, so close to home but so far away from the world, he reflects on his childhood. It’s not a conventional upbringing and it is equal amounts heartbreaking and fascinating. Eustace grows up in a care facility for the elderly, owned and run by his parents. His parents are polar opposites – father fun and jokey, mother more difficult to read. Eustace begins to learn the cello with the glamourous Carla after seeing her in concert. At first, the cello is all consuming and Eustace is pretty darn good. Soon he’s having overnight stays out of town to have his cello lesson and his mother and Carla are good friends. But when Eustace’s parents can’t afford the money to send him to private school (despite a music scholarship), everything changes. This occurs just as he’s going through puberty and learning things about himself. A week at a much dreamed of music school ends abruptly and Eustace’s life changes completely.

This is a beautiful, fascinating story that offers hope. It’s not without its darker moments as Eustace comes to realise and accept his sexuality (despite his family not being as accepting, with disgusting consequences). But Eustace is much stronger than he thinks, able to be an individual and with the love of friends who will support him no matter what. It also celebrates love in different forms – friends, family and the giddiness of a new lover. Patrick Gale is a master of showing, not telling. It’s on reflection that I realised how strong the bonds are between Carla, Louis, Vernon, Naomi and Eustace (or ‘Stash’ as he’s called in high school). Despite the majority of the story being told while Eustace is too radioactive to interact with others, it’s a lovely warm story full of interaction. Eustace also tells his story without bias or rose tinted reflection. It’s honest, bluntly so at times. It also describes adolescence so well – the worry of non-conformity, the discovery of self and having the world at your feet, but not knowing which choice to make.

If you enjoyed Sarah Winman’s Tin Man, you will adore Take Nothing With You. Patrick Gale is a highly skilled writer writing a story of warmth and hope.

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