Book Review: ‘Half a World Away’ by Mike Gayle

Book cover: Half a World Away by Mike Gayle

This is a profoundly moving novel set in our contemporary society, which works on so many levels, intimate, insightful and also demonstrating panoramic vision.

In ‘Half a World Away’ Mike Gayle takes as his subject those children who are born into deeply dysfunctional situations in the UK, and thus come to the attention of the social services. Setting his story in London, he tells us of Kerry, a cleaner, and of her half-brother Noah, a barrister, who were separated when Kerry was 10 and Noah (formerly known as Jason) was two.

The story is on one level a very moving portrayal of the different destinies lived out by those who are adopted by a loving family, and those who go into care. On another level the story explores family relationships with discernment, sensitivity, compassion and a sharply observant eye. Then the novel works as an insightful account of how fate and chance and small decisions and choices interact in our lives leading to huge consequences.

As I read the book I was reminded in part of ‘The Love Story of Miss Queenie Hennessy’ by Rachel Joyce. This is a book of which you may say, “I had to put it down” because it was so highly emotionally engaging. At such times the reader may feel the need to take a rest from it, for that reasons. Some of it is painfully acute in its depiction of the most heartrending circumstances. And in addition to that, Mike Gayle’s observation of human behaviour, from the most callous and selfish – and no less tragic for that – through to the most kind, compassionate and caring, is of the highest order.

A brilliant book, which I may recommend to all – and to those personally involved in issues of adoption and social care, though some may find it almost too painful to read, it is so finely and accurately observed.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal and mystery

fiction and non-fiction

Author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit and Perilous Path

My next book Paranormal Warwickshire will be published by Amberley Publishing in June 2020.

Two Excellent BBC Drama Offerings: Wolf Hall and A Casual Vacancy

Michael Gambon & Julia McKenzie in the BBC's The Casual Vacancy
Michael Gambon & Julia McKenzie in the BBC’s The Casual Vacancy

We’ve recently seen two very good dramatizations on BBC TV: Wolf Hall, and The Casual Vacancy.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC's Wolf Hall
Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC’s Wolf Hall

The casting was brilliant, particularly Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall, and Michael Gambon as Howard in The Casual Vacancy.

You may think think the two novels on which these dramatisations were based, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and A Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling, could hardly be more different; one story set in the sixteenth century Tudor Court, and the other in our contemporary society. And yet I found striking points of similarity.

In the world in which the two novels are set, we see how central tribalism is to human nature. The historians I have read on the subject of the Tudor Court have emphasised how everything revolved around factions. In Thomas Cromwell’s world he had to navigate the changing fortune of the factions: when the Boleyn faction was in the ascendancy, he advanced the cause of Anne Boleyn; but when the Seymour faction  began to gain the upper hand, it was politic for Thomas to bring about Anne’s downfall to make way for Jane Seymour. After all, in that “dog eats dog” world his own life was always at stake.

In The Casual Vacancy we see how the wealthy and privileged, in our most favoured and idyllic villages, gather together and dominate the local council and influence decisions about the local community in their own favour, so that the poor and marginalised are separated from them even further. JK Rowling is showing us something of how this same principle of tribalism, is replicated in English society today:how members of one group gather together to increase their power over the other: those who consider themselves socially ‘superior’ cluster together and fend off those who are perceived as failures, the socially dysfunctional.

Humans are tribal and we see this in every sphere of our lives.

In today’s western societies we might not turn to genocide and massacres of the kind we have seen in other countries of the world in the past few decades, because our ‘veneer of civilisation’ is still strong enough to prevail; but we are certainly capable of expressing the same dark undercurrents in our hearts and minds, by using other, more subtle methods, to achieve similar ends. The same tribalism is there, deeply rooted in our psyches.

Click here and here to find my own reviews of both books.