Set in Warrington, What Will Survive traces the story of Graham and his childhood sweetheart, Charlotte, through adolescence and on into adulthood.
Intertwined amidst a dual narrative set over two decades, the story begins in 1985, working its way through to the present. References to social history are there in plenty – from UB40 through to Neil Kinnock, Skol Lager and over-packaged jewellery from Ratners – lovers of the 80’s will feel very much at home with this book!
The core of the novel, Charlotte’s premature death while their son Michael is still a toddler, is poignantly told. Graham’s subsequent and rapid collapse into self-medicating his hurt away through the lens of an empty bottle will strike a chord with many men who’ve been left in similar situations; so too, his arduous and painful path to recovery. These chapters are gritty and ring true.
Against this dark backdrop however, there is light relief in the form of the now 15-year-old Michael. Enrolling his dad onto an on-line dating site, and then amending his profile to read “pilot, classically trained pianist, with interests in extreme sports and dolphin training”, affords us a glimpse into the young man’s mind. He comes over as fun-loving and as confident as you can be at 15. We can guess that Graham did just fine bringing him up on his own!
(I wish Gartside had brought a bit more out about Graham’s relationship with his son Michael – the “who is the grown-up?” conversations are good; just not enough of them. That’s not a criticism. It’s just having a 15yo daughter at home, mean’s it’s a subject matter not far from my mind.)
Anyway, through Michael’s fraudulent on-line skills, Graham gets to meet Pippa, a charming and good-looking doctor from the local hospital. The book ends with them (and Michael) planning a new life together. And perhaps that is the point of this novel; it’s a good old-fashioned love story!
And that makes sense. To complete the line from Larkin’s An Arundel Tomb, from which the title is taken, “What will survive of us is love”
What Will Survive by Mark Gartside is published by MacMillan and priced at £12.99. It will be on the shelves in mid-May 2012.