The Facts of Life – Patrick Gale

TFOL‘The apples don’t fall so far from the tree.’ is not a phrase I had heard before reading this book but it suddenly cropped up min a radio programme I was listening to and prompted me to think about the way our genetic inheritance affects our behaviour. This book spans three generations of as family which begins with Edward and Sally, who get married very quickly, neither having dated anyone else.

In their early married life they work through a recipe book in order (so I am not the only one who does that), so there are lots of successive soups before getting to any meat dishes, which was good as they were cheaper and they were poor.

The priest who married them was concerned that the groom was Jewish so he chooses a reading about being married to heathens. That would not have been an option in the wedding service then. It is only very recently that people were allowed to choose readings other than those set. It is good that the author wants to portray anti-Semitism but he should be accurate.

Edward is a strong presence throughout the book; enchanting and interesting.

There are some vivid descriptions, for example, of giving birth, of people who manipulate marches (the Socialist Workers Party comes to mind) of the way in which AIDS-related illness ravaged those who suffered from it in the early days. “The virus sabotaged his body’s defences: death came to seem like no more than the ultimate painkiller.”

The inadequacy of medicine in earlier times is shown three times. The boredom and stifling atmosphere of a mental hospital where there is no stimulation other than ECT, a place for people with trauma where there is no treatment, merely containment are examples.

Euthanasia occurs twice, in different generations, and there is a moving scene where someone begs for it. The earlier instance, however evoked strong feelings from some of our group – murder, plain and simple – Edward achieved what the Nazis were hell-bent on doing.

Sam in a mercurial counterpoint. It would be worth re-reading the book and concentrating on his character in order to understand more.

Is the goddess figurine fetish a bringer of bad luck?

The compromises people make to earn a living are described: the musician who writes sentimental tunes because they will be popular and make him a log of money: he “abandoned his music for mammon.” This can be contrasted with a simple job in a music shop job where the employee no longer has to have a split persona but can be himself consistently.

There is a cheesy description of being in love, comparing a boiled sweet to a blood orange.

There is a degree of political awareness: the private companies’ medical scheme where employees sign a waiver that compromises doctor-patient confidentiality so that the millionaire boss who claims ‘Jesus as his personal saviour.’ can sack someone who is ill with impunity.

There is some psychological awareness: I am sure that many of us have, after some injustice,  imagined our own death and what people will guiltily say afterwards.

Some stories have a sense of inevitability many pages before the event – you just know that Sam is going to bed Alison.

And was it Alison or the author who knows no Latin? Alison says that Myra is a dea ex machina

 Owing to various commitments, our group only had two weeks to read this book. It was daunting, initially, as it is such a big book. However, it is also easy and straightforward to read so it is possible to romp through it. However, we thought it was too long and wondered whether it would have been better as three books – a trilogy. The first half was best and then most of the rest was padding until just before the end. Mind you, our resident curmudgeon ‘quite enjoyed it’ which is somewhat unusual.

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