Three Gifts by Mark A Radcliffe
Mark A. Radcliffe’s Three Gifts is a life affirming pleasure much like his first two novels, the Not the Booker Prize long-listed Gabriel’s Angel (published by Blue Moose in 2010) and Stranger Than Kindness (2013). Thankfully the intervening years don’t seem to have robbed him/us of his pithy humour and sharp observations about life, death and all that messy stuff in between. In Three Gifts Francis Broad is offered the chance to exchange some of his life so that his mum, Rose, can become a cancer survivor rather than a cancer victim. It’s the sort of ‘what if I could’ ideation all of us at various times in our lives mull over, as if we were the kind of magical gods who can do Jesus style party tricks to save family, friends and well-loved pets. The odd thing is it’s not a ‘magical god’ who offers to help Francis but a mysterious man at the local beach, where he’s learning to swim, “If I told you that you were going to live until you were eighty-five and then die relatively painlessly in your sleep, but your mother will be cured of her cancer if you sign away twenty years of your life…would you do it?” It’s a no brainer for a young Francis but one that starts to feel less so as the years pass and his death day approaches, “Swimming was one of the things that offered the illusion of slowing down time”, but life doesn’t quite slow down as much as he would like. Had he been brave and kind to make that deal, or young and stupid? What will his wife and daughter think when they find out that part of his life has been contracted away - and that he’s been back to the mysterious man on the beach more than once to renegotiate? These questions and conundrums are explored with a lovely lightness of touch that avoids easy answers, mawkishness, and sad book despair. The working-class scenes of Francis’ early life with Rose are also especially moving, “If Rose had been invited to share an anecdote about her life, unlikely because there were not many people who listened when Rose spoke, it would not reflect the drama and humiliation that accompanied poverty but rather it would end in a small triumph”. Three Gifts is rather a big triumph. I loved it, and you will too.
Three Gifts – Mark A Radcliffe - publ. Epoque Press - £9.99