FACING THE TANK by Patrick Gale


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Another of Englishman Gale's densely populated comic novels, this one set in a cathedral town. Professor Evan Kirby--an amiable, newly divorced, middle-aged American, author of a successful book about Hell--is in England researching a companion work on Paradise; this takes him to Barrowcester, a comfortable, quintessentially English town whose natives kill you with kindness. The large cast includes Evan's Spanish landlady, Mercy Merluza, a partial amnesiac; her clever daughter Madeleine, who becomes the talk of the tabloids after being made pregnant by a Cardinal; Dawn Harper, a Satanist searching for her long-lost daughter; the socialist Bishop and his mother, a medium who reveals Mercy's incestuous past; and Clive and Lydia Hart, trendy liberals whose principles are tested when their supposedly gay son shows up with his gorgeous black bride-to-be. They make for a fine cluster of cameos, but not much else; Gale serves up bizarre episodes instead of plot. Evan lends Dawn a book of Satanic invocations, and she succeeds in summoning Sasha, now a feral seven-year-old who, before she succumbs to rat poison, possesses the Bishop's mother and destroys all Evan's research. The Bishop has a brief encounter with Patron Saint Boniface, after tampering with his remains in the cathedral. These supernatural happenings are blended with various social embarrassments; the wedding of the Harts' son, confusion over who is and who isn't gay. Evan and Madeleine, who in a better structured novel might have emerged as appealing protagonists, somehow discover their mutual attraction, and wind up in a Welsh seaside cottage. Gale writes like the poor man's Iris Murdoch: he has her subversive sense of mischief, though none of her deep feeling for character, being content to stay on the surface, teasing. Still, at age 26, with four novels published, he has time and energy to spare, and is worth watching.

Pub Date: April 5th, 1989
ISBN: 525-24737-8
Publisher: Dutton
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