To begin a book review in a recent edition of The New Yorker (April 25, 2016), James Woods asserts that if there is such a thing as ‘late style’ in classical music then there must be such a thing in contemporary fiction; and then he describes what it might look like in the late works of Muriel Spark, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and Edna O’Brien. He’s right, of course, but then there must be such a thing as ‘early style’; and having read, and blogged about, two later works of Patrick Gale, Notes from an Exhibition (2007) and A Perfectly Good Man (2012) this one, The Aerodynamics of Pork his debut novel from 1985, is a perfect example of such an ‘early style.
There are no exquisite sentences nor the confident rearrangement of narrative time that characterise Gale’s later work. You can sense that Gale is testing the waters with this one; not just testing his own talent but flexing his literary muscles really, paving the way for more complex, more personal, and more adventurous writing.
Gale starts chapters and you find yourself in a maze. This isn’t as disturbing as it may seem; it just ups your trust in the writer a notch or two. (So you think, “This better be worth it”) But, as in a maze, you gradually find youself making sense of where you are, and who people are, their friends and situations and before you know it you find youself out of the maze – it’s only page three and you meet a before-mentioned character, say, from page one – and suddenly you’re into a plot. Gale allows the reader to do some of the work, to test assumptions and make predictions based on the information he gives you without spelling everything out which always halts the flow causing the narrative to plod rather than skip. Gale’s plots always skip.
It remains popular with the reading public even though Gale has somewhat dismissed it as over-written and under edited; I see it more as one of the work’s two narratives working better than the other.
Seth Peake, 15 going on 35, a musical prodigy and an extremely well-adjusted gay school-boy, blossoms artistically and romantically during a summer music festival; and a police inspector, Maude Faithe, a lesbian who’s let her sexuality slip in importance in recent years, discovers it again during her investigation into a bizarre series of burglaries of the homes of astrologists and popular fortune tellers and their soon to be announced prophecy of global importance. Seth is certainly ‘out’ while Mo is definitely ‘in’; as she is about her profession: she’s secretive of her sexuality among her work-collegues, but even more so about her job to potential friends and especially to potential lovers.
Seth’s narrative is more satisfying if only for the characters of his mother and sister; the former a progressive thinker but still a worrier, and the latter, an underachiever who finally understands that her lack of interest in sex is her own affair and her anxiety is solely due to her younger brother’s success at it even if he is underage.
The title is intriguing and there are cute little references to ‘pig’ and ‘piglets’ as euphemisms for members of the constabulary, although more benign than one might expect; and subtle inferences to the adynaton, ‘if pigs could fly.’ It would be a mistake to read too much into this; a memorable title need not be anything but a memorable title; but, of course, it means whatever you think it means.
If you are new to Patrick Gale why not start with this one, just like he did.
This and other Patrick Gale titles are being released in the US as e-editions through Open Road Media and you can find this title here.
You can also find the book on Open Road Media’s affiliated sites:
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