MOTHER’S BOY is the seventeenth book by Patrick Gale, but you may not have heard of him. Although he’s a bestselling author in Great Britain, he has been without an American publisher since his first three books came out. The novels are so quiet that you can miss how skillfully written they are. Mother’s Boy is both hushed and breathtakingly powerful, a biographical novel in the tradition of novels like Colm Tóibín’s The Master and The Magician that follow the known facts of a subject’s life and imaginatively fill in the gaps.
In this case, the subject is the poet Charles Causley, a name that may not resonate very strongly in the U.S. but who’s a beloved figure in Britain for his war poetry and his children’s verse. Causley grew up in Launceston, a small Cornish town. There he stayed all his life, teaching in the local school and living with his mother until her death. The longest he stayed away was during World War II, when he may have had the only sexual relations in his life, and they were with other men. Gale wants to understand how Causley became so fixed in his life, geographically and sexually: in short, how he became a “mother’s boy.”
David Bergman is a professor of English at Towson University, MD, and poetry editor for this magazine.