It seems that some of the most beautiful books I own come from a dusty, old bookshop. THAT’S where the magic lies. You go in with wonder in your eyes and excitement in your heart. You don’t know what you are looking for. You don’t know what you’ll find. And that’s half the fun, isn’t it? You just want to get lost in it, for hours..moving from corner to corner, your fingers tracing frayed corners of broken spines, flicking the pages.
Its one of my favorite things to do. And on that sunny winter day, I was doing exactly this when my eye was captured by a book hiding away between a bunch of bulky hardcovers. On its cover was a little boy, on the beach, looking for something. And I didn’t even have to read what it’ll be about because something in my heart said that whatever story these pages contained, it’ll be worth reading.
And I wasn’t wrong.
Rough Music is the story of a woman, her husband, and her son. It’s about her fears, her disappointments, and her guilt. It’s about a man always doing the right things and in the process failing to listen to his own heart. it’s also about a boy, a sweet little boy. A boy who lives in books and plays with criminals. A boy whose heart knows the truth but his mind wants to be a grown-up.
But most of all it’s a story of a family and how it changed during one fine summer.
What happened during that summer? That summer holiday that was supposed to be an escape from the boredom and mundanity of life. That’s what this story is about.
About that fine summer on the beach.
Patrick Gale is a sly human being. He hooks you in with a promise of a fun holiday and then he shatters your beliefs and your heart by turning it into something you’d never have expected. His lyrical writing captivates you from the instant you read that first sentence – full of desire, confusion, and hope to disappear. And then he forms a smoke-screen for you in the next few chapters to make sure that you believe his faux promise of a fun, loving, exciting family.
The story follows two timelines and both of them intertwine so completely that it weaves a thick web around you and it continues to do so until you aren’t able to see anything but these beautifully flawed characters. Will – a man drowning in guilt and trying to break free of his conflicted mind, Frances – dealing with the slow but gradual demise of her memory – both good and bad, and John – a man struggling to keep it all together.
It’s amazing how much a story can change you as it changes the lives of the ones it belongs to.
Years ago, something happened in a house overlooking a beautiful beach. It was like a dream come true for little Julian – to be spending his holidays there, this heaven on Earth. And his parents? Well, they were deeply in love, as far as he was concerned. But this truth will soon change for him and when it does, he will be left with nothing but an overwhelming urge to break it all.
As the narrative shifts from Julian to Will to Frances to John, Gale presents a sharp contrast in their voices and although it seems like nothing at first but as you progress through the story, you find out just how much of their characters and their deepest desires is revealed through it. He captures the fantasy-ridden, innocent voice of Julian in such contrast with that of his parents that it’s impossible not to fall in love first, with him, and then with Patrick Gale for doing such an excellent job at bringing this little boy and everyone around him to life.
The effect of his words is magnetic to the point that before you know it, you find yourself amidst all that is happening, with your senses heightened and your morality questioning every event that transpires.
It’s so well written that I couldn’t see the surprises coming. They kept closing in, all this time, and I was completely unaware. They stealthily caught up on me and in a moment, everything I thought I knew about every single one of them was pronounced false.
Gale has this extraordinary talent of making things seem irrelevant until they turn into the exact opposite of that. Thrilling, in the most beautiful, lyrical way. His writing reads like elongated poetry, dispelling all the harsh truths and the sunny memories all at the same time, in an uninterrupted dream.
Julian spent all of his childhood in uncommon vicinity to the prison and its inhabitants. Made friends with them. And it is almost poetic how he ultimately became one. In this way, the events of this story also give off a vague but unmistakable whiff of karma.
Rough Music puts the sanctity of marriage and relationships in bright light too for us to see the cracks that are otherwise impossible to discern. A marriage done solely for the comforts of belonging to someone and a desire to get away from a family of four brothers and a mother who saw her as a disappointment left Frances wanting more after the newness of the first few years wore off. And John? Well, he, bound to his duty as a prison governor and entangled in the web of politeness, never dared voice his deep love for her and it led to such disappointments later on that everything – every year they had spent together- was brought into question.
This story is also about memories.
Some we want to hold on to, others we bury deep inside, never letting them surface.
But what happens when they do?
When a spiteful daughter concocts a plan to send you to the very place where the dissociation of your seemingly lovely family began? When a desire for the feel of a handsome stranger calls everything you’ve been doing into question? When the guilt of hurting your sister constantly for almost as long as she’s been married drives you to such a point of confusion that you just don’t know what to do anymore? When a sound, a smell, a taste, an event brings back every emotion you’ve been suppressing for as long as you can remember?
What happens when the past starts to flood your present and there is no anchor to hold on to?
I was also struck by the stunning contrast between what happened years ago – it’s excitement and the calm composed nature of the present circumstances acquired only after the long-accepted knowledge of those truths. They had made peace with their secrets and what happened at their unveiling and I, on the other hand, was left to the thrill and excitement and the emotional turmoil of it all.
The unfolding of the events of this book is like the unveiling of a masterpiece – it takes its sweet time. It was less a mere advancement and more a discovery of relationships, their secrets, and the morals and attitudes that guided them – for better or worse – throughout the span of three generations. You will be told about secrets you wish you hadn’t been made privy to, you will be made to pity an old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s and defend her actions, you will be made to hate or be indifferent towards a daughter who was never really a daughter.
Yes, you will be MADE to do all of these things. You won’t have a choice. The writer is the master here and all you can do is bow down to his genius and let the story live in you, live through you.
You’ll find that every word on these pages is intensely aware of its existence, the story painfully aware of its liveliness and this awareness will act as a bridge to the very souls of these characters. Only then they won’t just be ‘characters’ anymore. They will become your companions for the time being and beyond.
Rough Music isn’t just a story about a family and how they deal with life’s different blows and the problems in their relationships, it’s a piece of their life which Patrick Gale has entrusted us, the readers, to make sure that it is heard, understood, and reflected upon.
How much power does a name hold? It can change lives, memories, even the whole personality.
By the end, you will understand the mystery of a boy’s changed name.
A boy with heaps of guilt stacked on his little shoulders.
A man in love with his wife but ensnared by the silence that fears had imposed on him.
A woman losing her mind, and a loving doting husband losing himself in her.
I have lived their lives. Their forgetful, unforgettable lives. And now, their lives live in me. Maybe forever.
But memory is a fickle thing, isn’t it?
Ask Frances when you meet, in between the pages of Rough Music.