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.
Charles Causley was clearly a remarkable man. Despite his modest background, he had the quiet determination to succeed and did exceptionally well at school. Due to his family circumstances he could not stay on as he undoubtedly would have wished but nonetheless he wrote plays and played in a band. His talent was recognised when he enlisted in the Navy during WW2 and he became a coder. In later life he wrote poetry and you really should have a look at it if you’re not familiar with it already. I was particularly moved by the poem Angel Hill included at the back of the book, which seems to give an insight into a side of Causley’s life he was compelled to keep private, explored with sensitivity in the book.
My Thoughts
About the book
Patrick Gale has skilfully taken the details known about Laura (and Charles) and built upon them to create this wonderfully compelling novel. Mother’s Boy is an absorbing and touching story, so beautifully told. Patrick Gale really is a natural storyteller and Mother’s Boy is another outstanding read.
I am a huge fan of Patrick Gale’s wonderful writing and I was very excited to read Mother’s Boy. Even more exciting was finding out he was coming to Edinburgh in March to take part in an event to talk about the book. Sadly, the event had to be postponed and unfortunately I was on holiday when the rescheduled event too place. Crossing my fingers for the Edinburgh Book Festival! I have just spent the last few days reading the book and it did not disappoint – another first-class read.
The attention to detail throughout is exceptional and you can tell there has been extensive research be it into life in service, serving during the wars or life on the home front. Yet the details do not intrude but are woven into the narrative in a very natural way creating a vivid picture of the Causleys’ lives.
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.
About the Author
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.
I loved Laura’s story and the insight it gave into women’s lives at a time spanning both world wars. Hers seemed to be a life of drudgery with no let up, a daily struggle to keep everyone fed and clean and make ends meet. I couldn’t help but admire Laura and her determination to do her best for her boy. It pleased me that she had some fleeting moments of happiness later in her life.
Patrick Gale is a keen cellist, gardener and artistic director of the North Cornwall Book Festival. He lives with his husband, the farmer and sculptor, Aidan Hicks (, on their farm at the far west of Cornwall. In addition to his latest, Mother’s Boy, which is published on March 1 2022, his seventeen novels include Take Nothing With You (2018), which was his fourth Sunday Times bestseller, Rough Music (2000), Notes From an Exhibition (2007), A Perfectly Good Man (2012) and A Place Called Winter (2015). In 2017 his two part drama Man in an Orange Shirt was screened by BBC2 as part of the Gay Britannia season. Continuing to be broadcast regularly around the world, this won the International Emmy for best miniseries and is now in development as a musical. He is currently working on a television adaptation of A Place Called Winter and a stage version of Take Nothing With You. Extracts from the BBC documentary All Families Have Secrets – the Narrative Art of Patrick Gale can be seen on his website

I do enjoy historical fiction, particularly when it is based on real people and events. In this case I didn’t know anything about the poet Charles Causley and have enjoyed finding out about him both through this book and by looking up more about him. The author points out that this is not an biographical story but that he expanded the known facts about Charles and his mother Laura, with whom he was very close. In fact, the story is as much Laura’s as it is her son’s.

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