Welcome to justthoughtsnstuff

I started posting to jtns on 20 February 2010 with just one word, 'Mosaic'. This seemed an appropriate introduction to a blog that would juxtapose fragments of memoir and life-writing. Since 1996, I'd been coming to terms with the consequences of emotional and economic abuse that had begun in childhood, and which, amongst other things, had sought to stifle self-expression. While I'd explored some aspects of my life through fiction and, to a lesser extent, journalism, it was only in 2010 that I felt confident enough to write openly about myself. I believed this was an important part of the healing process. Yet within weeks, the final scenes of my family's fifty-year nightmare started to play themselves out and the purpose of the blog became one of survival through writing. Although some posts are about my family's suffering - most explicitly, Life-Writing Talk, with Reference to Trust: A family story - the majority are about happier subjects (including, Bampton in rural west Oxfordshire, where I live, Oxford, where I work, the seasons and the countryside, walking and cycling) and I hope that these, together with their accompanying photos, are enjoyable and positive. Note: In February 2020, on jtns' tenth birthday, I stopped posting to this blog. It is now a contained work of life-writing about ten years of my life. Frank, 21 February 2020.

New blog: morethoughtsnstuff.com.

Saturday 22 November 2014

oxford clay, losey's servant, patrick gale, sb sweeney - facing the strange, facts of life

While it's not been too wet this week, there have been some heavy showers and the water does sit on the Oxford clay.

The Joseph Losey 'season' continued with the first half of The Servant. I was surprised by how well this film had lasted. It's a powerful, beautifully scripted and directed story. It had faired better, I thought, than the later Losey-Bogarde film Accident, which I watched a few weeks back.

Meanwhile, reading two good books: Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale and Facing the Strange by SB Sweeney.

The Gale was recommended by a friend. I immediately felt at home in the Cornish artist-colony setting. I've enjoyed Patrick Gale's work and very much enjoyed meeting him when he was the guest writer at an Arvon course I did several years ago at Totleigh Barton in Devon. I remember there was supposed to be a book signing but he had to leave before it happened. However, he took the trouble to arrange for signed stickers to be sent to everyone who had bought a copy of his novel during the course.

The first review I ever wrote for a newspaper was of his excellent novel The Facts of Life - see below.

I've nearly finished Facing the Strange and am much enjoying it. For more on SB Sweeney and his well-crafted and individual work, see http://www.sbsweeney.com.


Patrick Gale's new novel is an enjoyable read in spite its sombre themes. He makes us care about issues through good, well-rounded characters and a compelling storyline, though there are times when the narrative does get overburdened with his dizzying ideas.

His primary interest is in how post-war attitudes to sexuality have evolved, transforming individuals and families. He writes about sex, both gay and straight, with wit, tempered by maturity and intelligence.

At the heart of the novel is the Aids crisis. By setting the disease in a broader context Gale attempts, boldly, to rationalise our understanding of it.

He explores his themes through the experiences of three generations of the Pepper family. The comparative innocence of Sally and Edward contrasts with the carefree anarchy of their daughter Miriam with her coterie of lovers, and the complex, dangerous world of their grandchildren, Alison and Jamie.

The family home, The Roundel, a twelve-sided folly, plays an important part in uniting and redeeming the different generations. It is a powerful symbol of maternal love, linked poignantly to the healing power of time.

Although Gale dwells more on the present, his imaginative realisation of 1940s provincial life, quaking from the social aftershocks of war, is remarkably vivid. Throughout, his insight into both male and female experience is almost Tiresian.

Despite the plethora of ideas, what shines through in this novel is a refreshing optimism. Gale believes in the ability of ordinary people to face tough challenges heroically, and in their natural inclination towards fair-mindedness, if only given the chance.

1 comment:

  1. I read Notes From an Exhibition several years ago but remember the setting, GBH and the artist mother in the attic vividly. He is so good on houses. But I have a sense of the ending being less pleasing -wonder if you will feel the same.