A sweet obscurity by patrick gale


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A Sweet Obscurity is told from the alternating viewpoints of four characters. Eliza is a musicologist who has lost her way, wrecked her marriage with a foolish liaison and is now living in some squalor in a council flat. Giles is her estranged husband, an operatic counter tenor. Julia is his girlfriend, assistant to his machiavellian lesbian agent. Pearce is a Cornish beef farmer, as yet unconnected to any of them.

Running through the four strands, ensnaring the adult’s hearts and effectively controlling their destinies, is Dido, the niece Eliza adopted on her sister’s death. Dido has stumbled upon a terrible secret but is realising that none of the adults in her life is strong enough or focussed enough to help her deal with it…

The title is not quite a quote from an Elizabethan song lyric. In the novel Eliza chances on the manuscript of a lost madrigal by a bisexual composer who left Elizabeth I’s court after a scandal to cultivate “a second, quieter love” amid “country goodness and a sweete obscuritie” on his family’s remote estates in Cornwall. Apparently a piece of minor narrative colour at first, this lyric comes to stand for what all five characters are pursuing – a place of safety in an insecure and vainglorious world.

Patrick has an active dream life which has often helped him with his writing but this is the first of his novels to have been inspired by a dream.

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