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Gale, Patrick (b. 1962)  
 
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Although gay and lesbian characters figure prominently in all but one of his twelve novels, Patrick Gale does not write the traditional coming-out or escape from oppressive environment narratives. Rather, he draws on his own varied background and experience to explore gay men and lesbians in complex, often dysfunctional, family units set within the three worlds he finds most meaningful--London, Winchester, and Cornwall, the worlds he experienced most personally.

Gale was born on January 31, 1962 on the Isle of Wight. Before reaching adulthood, he was minded by a murderer in Wormwood Scrubs Prison where his father was administrator, had discovered music at Pilgrim's School in Winchester, attended Winchester College School where his writing ability was recognized and encouraged, and studied English at New College, Oxford. He had hoped to become an actor, but this ambition was not to be realized except in the ways in which he immerses himself in the characters he creates.

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Between 1979 and 1985, he worked as a waiter, a cook, a temporary typist, a singer with the London Philharmonic Choir, a house sitter in France, a musician, a ghostwriter of encyclopedia entries, and a bone-sorter for an archaeological team. He describes writing as both "an addiction and a livelihood."

He now lives in and sets most of his works in Cornwall, an area he has loved since he performed in a music festival there when he was ten.

The famous sentence that opens Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina--"All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"--could easily stand as the epigraph to Gale's novels, because he is fascinated with the dynamics, dysfunctions, and fluid emotions within the contemporary family unit. Relationships outside the family involving friends, lovers, teachers, and acquaintances are equally fraught with difficulties and dangers. Absent fathers, missing mothers, hostile siblings, and abandoned children, cut off from loving nurture, protective parents, and supportive brothers and sisters, populate his novels.

Totally unknown to his family, the father in Gale's debut novel, The Aerodynamics of Pork (1986), is a serial murderer of London astrologers who finally hangs himself in his jail cell. In Facing the Tank (1988), an established art historian becomes pregnant by a Cardinal who abandons her, and an elderly mother discovers that she enjoys playing dead so she can frighten her son. The Cat Sanctuary (1990) provides the reader two sisters who have been abused throughout childhood by their father, the one through physical beatings, the other through sexual molestation.

A mother in A Sweet Obscurity (2003) leaves a letter utterly renouncing her daughters, and another while drunk fellates her nine-year-old son. Sophie in Friendly Fire (2005), abandoned as a baby, never discovers anything about her biological parents, and Eli/Edward in The Facts of Life (1995) loses his parents in the Holocaust. Notes from an Exhibition (2007), Gale's most recent novel, probes deeply into the destructive effects a mother's manic depression has on husband, children, and her creative work.

From these examples, two conclusions may be reached: the novels offer a surfeit of oppressions, shocks, and disappointments, especially through unexpected deaths and suicides, but protagonists find ways to escape into normal lives, freed from guilt, vocational angst, emotional paralysis, and existential dread. They find creative surges, genuine love, and affirmation of self. The couples in Facing the Tank, for instance, flee their town in wonderfully comic marriages.

Gale's early novels were welcomed as genuinely talented comic works that skillfully mixed gay and straight characters in a world replete with eccentric characters, comic revelations, and well-earned laughter. Ease (1986), for example, follows Domina Tey, a successful playwright, through her mid-life crisis. Blocked as a writer, she leaves her posh home, rents a room in a run-down Bayswater boarding house, and waits for inspiration to emerge from what she can glean from the other boarders' lives. Her episodic encounters with the mortician, tart, Orthodox monk, gay Frenchman, a very territorial dachshund, and others give her a burst of creativity.

Though he seems more comfortable with tighter, dramatic developments, Gale exploits the episodic structure with increasing deftness in Facing the Tank, Little Bits of Baby (1989), and Friendly Fire.

Gale knows more about multiple plotting than most Elizabethan dramatists and builds most of his novels by creatively contrasting London and Cornwall, past and present, parallel affairs, two people in love with the same person, or sometimes by simply alternating chapters between characters.

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Patrick Gale. Photograph by Aidan Hicks.
  
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