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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 25 August 2017

"Kansas in August" by Patrick Gale

Starts brilliantly when Henry (short for Henrietta), a doctor sleeping in her room in a mental hospital, discovers in her bed the Y-Fronts of last night's junior doctor; meanwhile Rufus, lover of Henry's teacher-wannabe-tap dancer brother Hilary, wakes beside a drug addict on a mattress and travels to a military base to give a 'piano lesson' to a military wife who pays him so she can play to him before they have sex. Then Henry meets Rufus and they each lie about who they are and they have uncomplicated casual sex. Add to this weird triangle a schoolgirl with a crush on Hilary and the baby Hilary finds in an underpass and decides to keep to the joy of his landlady the schoolgirl's mum, and we have the strangest of characters. The setting is London going to the dogs. It rains or snows in almost every scene. The flats suffer power cuts and Henry's patients either hold her up in the car park with a gun or summon her to the top flat in a dark and deserted tower block. The phones rarely work and the transport services are either on strike, or breaking down, or the conductor just throws everybody off the bus. There is rubbish all around because the bin men are on strike and every street is haunted by gangs of muggers. The school where Hilary teaches has a staffroom in the centre of the playground which is under constant attack from the anarchy of the playing youths.

He has a powerful imagination and the urban decay was vivid although it sometimes teetered near to caricature. My biggest problem was that so much was started and unresolved. It reminded me of an episode of Hill Street Blues, a groundbreaking US TV show in which storylines might be introduced purely for the pleasure of not finishing them. After all, real life is like this. And Gale's work was a fascinating mixture of gritty reality, often beautifully described, and fantasy.

And the title? Well it isn't set in Kansas and it is set in winter. A search on Google tells me that a song in South Pacific starts "I'm as corny as Kansas in August".

  • "At the far end of the street the bulb in the telephone kiosk was flickering out a lonely code." (p 38)
  • "The poignancy of removing carefully chosen underwear in solitude, however, was insufferable." (p 64)
  • "It said 'Kingfisher' on it, but the kingfisher transfer had rubbed off, leaving only the bird's head and a snapped-off beak." (p 100)

I'm not sure I have read anything quite like this remarkable book. It's detailed description of a fantasy world reminded me of the Gormenghast novels by Mervyn Peake or Dhalgren by Samuel Delaney.

Patrick Gale has also written the delightful Notes from an Exhibition.

August 2017; 155 pages

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