Mother’s Boy is a fictional account of the life of Cornish poet Charles Caulsey. Absolutely beautifully written it traces Charles’s life from an impoverished childhood where he was raised by his widowed mother Laura, through to his return to Launceston at the end of the war. Bookended by the two world wars Gale has given us a tender novel depicting the emotional complexities of love.
Charles doesn’t play sport, he is bookish, musical and theatrical, he loves language and reads poetry, he is everything a village boy shouldn’t be. Navigating his childhood and adolescence he learns to hide becoming an intensely private young man. Joining the navy as a coder sees Charles acknowledge his sexuality all the while knowing the truth of his relationships will have to remain as secret as the work he is doing. Against the backdrop of war Gale evokes the excitement and fear engendered by these encounters.
As the title suggests Laura features as a major character in a Mother’s Boy. Fiercely protective of her clever son she is also a little afraid of and for him – intuiting he is different. Gale’s drawing of Laura is gentle and sympathetic - class, racism and poverty are all thrown into stark relief by her strong work ethic and compassion. Her natural moral compass disallows hypocrisy.
Throughout this novel characters of real authenticity rise from the pages inviting the reader to emotionally invest but it is the relationship between mother and son that is the keystone. It is symbiotic and loving, there is the pull and push of adolescence but in the heat of battle it is the security of his mother’s kitchen that he longs for. This deep bond sees Charles return to live with his mother and teach at the local school when the war ends. Sensitive and well imagined Mother’s Boy is an homage to Charles Caulsey and love.
Laura, an impoverished Cornish girl, meets her husband when they are both in service in Teignmouth in 1916. They have a baby, Charles, but Laura's husband returns home from the trenches a damaged man, already ill with the tuberculosis that will soon leave her a widow. In a small, class-obsessed town she raises her boy alone, working as a laundress, and gradually becomes aware that he is some kind of genius. As an intensely private young man, Charles signs up for the navy with the new rank of coder. His escape from the tight, gossipy confines of Launceston to the colour and violence of war sees him blossom as he experiences not only the possibility of death, but the constant danger of a love that is as clandestine as his work. MOTHER'S BOY is the story of a man who is among, yet apart from his fellows, in thrall to, yet at a distance from his own mother; a man being shaped for a long, remarkable and revered life spent hiding in plain sight. But it is equally the story of the dauntless mother who will continue to shield him long after the dangers of war are past.
'A writer with heart, soul, and a dark and naughty wit, one whose company you relish and trust' Observer '
'One of the joys of Gale's writing is how even the smallest of characters can appear fully formed, due to a charming wickedness alongside deeper observations' Irish Times