Henry is the stronger character. She is a successful medic specialising in often threatening psychiatric cases. Hilary teaches music peripatetically. Some of the children he meets might benefit from the attentions of his sister. Rufus is a partially credible amalgam of a macho man, gay pride, anything, perhaps, that he can think of today. But it is the word “think” that seems to provide the greatest challenge for these people.
They are presented as contemporary Brits rattling around west London. It is apparently always snowing. There are constant strikes and various other social challenges that result in piles of rubbish permanently half-hiding the urban decay that lines the streets. There is much alcohol consumption and occasional drug abuse, probably conceived as recreational, despite the fact that no-one ever seems to have any money.
Hilary finds a baby – yes, a real baby – abandoned in a cot. He seems to think that finders can be keepers and sets about being its foster parent. He seems to be under a personal impression that he can keep his find, as if he had discovered a stray dog or a dropped wallet. He sets about occasional feeding and watering, and takes it out once in a while to provide diversion. A young Asian girl befriends him and develops a crush. And this character, remember, we have been told is au fait with teaching, schooling and other things related to youngsters. As I mentioned earlier, “thinking” seems to challenge these people.
I admit to becoming rather confused as I read Patrick Gale´s novel. I found these people quite incredible and not very likeable. I did not understand and definitely did not empathise with any of their opinions or actions. They all seemed completely self-obsessed, rather crass and, crucially, unable to imaging anything beyond the end of the nose. Even immediate reality seemed to pass them by. But then, perhaps, that is contemporary Britain, something of a dross heap of selfishness. But, given west London and snow, why “Kansas” and why “August” remain two questions that still utterly defeat me.
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