...Gale writes with an eye on impermanence, showing how loss can be tinged with hope, and new beginnings with the threat of mortality. He is excellent at capturing time and place and while he doesn't avoid social commentary - Eustace is alive to the nuances of the British class system, and his mother's internalised homophobia has drastic consequences - he embeds it within the narrative so that it doesn't feel superimposed.
It's hard to make writing feel this easy and compelling. Gale's translucent prose and subtle structuring are artful but never showy. (It's a gift he shares with Anthony Trollope, who gets a few fond hat tips here, not least in the title.) It's also very sexy. Passionate, appetitive, flirtatious, Gale can write of the mind, but he also gets the body – from the bat-squeak of arousal in a London club, to the heady musk of teenage fumblings in a bed of "ivy, discarded crisp packets and used condoms".
It is worth noting that, for his 16th novel, Gale has revisited the subject matter of his first, The Aerodynamics of Pork, published in 1985... Take Nothing With You poignantly illustrates the curse of being born with musical talent but lacking the essential spark of genius, yet is suffused with the joy and wisdom of Gale’s mid-life reconnection with music.
Gale weaves his life experience with his fertile imagination. Perhaps this is what imbues his work with such heart and authenticity, and what makes Take Nothing With You, so readable, so believable, so . . . lovable. You’ll be carried along by the music of Gale’s prose, his charm, wit and warmth, and his empathy for us, for what it means to be human and other.
Having built up the tension stealthily Gale rushes to a slightly abrupt conclusion but that is a small caveat. This is an emotionally charged and humane tale beautifully conveying a child’s partial view of the world.