Friendly Fire: A Novel

Friendly Fire: A Novel

by Patrick Gale

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504036535
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 05/31/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 341
Sales rank: 957,146
File size: 9 MB
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Patrick Gale was born on the Isle of Wight. He spent his infancy at Wandsworth Prison, which his father governed, then grew up in Winchester, before attending Oxford University. He now lives on a farm near Land’s End. One of the United Kingdom’s best-loved novelists, his recent works include A Perfectly Good Man, The Whole Day Through, and the Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller Notes from an Exhibition. His latest novel, A Place Called Winter, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Prize, the Walter Scott Prize, and the Independent Booksellers’ Novel of the Year award. To find out more about Patrick and his work, visit
 Patrick Gale was born on the Isle of Wight. He spent his infancy at Wandsworth Prison, which his father governed, then grew up in Winchester, before attending Oxford University. He now lives on a farm near Land’s End. One of the United Kingdom’s best-loved novelists, his recent works include A Perfectly Good Man, The Whole Day Through, and the Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller Notes from an Exhibition. His latest novel, A Place Called Winter, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Prize, the Walter Scott Prize, and the Independent Booksellers’ Novel of the Year award. To find out more about Patrick and his work, visit

Read an Excerpt

Friendly Fire

A Novel

By Patrick Gale


Copyright © 2005 Patrick Gale
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3653-5


(thirteen years, ten months)

The first time Lucas came to Sophie's attention, he was wearing a dress. Towards the end of her first month at the school, Sophie paused one night in Flint Quad and was transfixed by what she saw through one of the male chamber windows. Music was playing, Bryan Ferry singing 'Love is the Drug' which was what had pulled her up short in the first place as it was a song with good associations for her. A girl in a soiled, purple silk ball gown was showing an older boy how to jive. Girls were banned from all male chambers after sundown, one of those rules whose wisdom was swallowed as unquestioningly as peasants accepted folklore in a werewolf film.

As the lawbreaker mouthed instructions, the boy whirled her around, held her by one hand then another, twirled her this way and that. Each was concentrating too hard to smile. A bored lack of interest was de rigueur so nobody but Sophie appeared to be watching them. Two boys were attempting to toast crumpets on a cluster of candles. A third played air guitar. A fourth and fifth played a wild, improvised game involving a fives glove and a softened pack of butter.

Then the dancers' manoeuvres caused the girl to be spun out in such a way that her eyes momentarily met Sophie's through the barred window and Sophie saw it wasn't a girl at all.

Tatham's had been founded in the fourteenth century by a wealthy and pragmatic bishop to train up priests to replace those lost to the Black Death, the costs being met entirely at his gift. As the school expanded over the centuries and began to take on fee-paying, less ambitious students, the band of charity boys remained in the original medieval buildings, Schola, and became marked out as Scholars, as opposed to the often inaptly named Commoners who were housed elsewhere. Scholars had to pass a far harder exam to gain entrance to the school and had at most times to wear a coal-black clerical uniform, complete with gown and sleeved jerkin so there should be no mistaking their ambivalent rank; at once intellectually exalted and socially obliged.

The school was peculiar in having admitted a very few female Scholars, on the same terms as the male ones, in every year's intake since the seventeenth century. This practice had its origins in a group of serving-women educated to the point of being able to read Greek by a group of Scholars who had entered into a bet on the subject. Most of these Xenophon-parsing maids vanished into nunneries or marriage but one took it upon herself to pass on her outlandish knowledge to the offspring of the man then Master of Schola, blessed with five daughters. One of these went on to write formidable texts on poverty, marriage and the proper cultivation of vegetables.

In honour of that story, the female Scholars, who sat the same exam and wore much the same uniform as their male equivalents, were members of Schola, housed amongst the boys but apart from them. They had their own chamber, dormitories and studies in a corner of Flint Quad. Their staircase had its peculiar touches of gentility: a small, secluded rose garden, proper bathrooms and a live-in chaperone, usually a retired member of the domestic staff, rarely with any Greek and known as Nurse. They were allowed to visit a male chamber in pairs, in daylight. They could receive calls only from boys approved and overseen by Nurse, and only in the afternoon. And they were known as Daughters.

Since 1970 daygirls had also been admitted on a fee-paying basis as Commoners but only to the sixth-form. They were extremely social and had nothing to do with the Daughters. Inevitably, with the cost of fees spiralling ever skyward, more and more well-off parents had taken to hothousing their sons in prep school so as to win them scholarships and a free path to university but attitudes towards the education of women remained sufficiently conventional for few such parents to risk putting their daughters at the same social disadvantage during their formative years.

Boys and girls studied together but were kept separate in class, any girls having to sit in the front row. Teachers addressed boys by their surnames, girls as Miss Whatever. Outnumbered by nearly twenty-five to one, girls found their femininity negated by their own desire for invisibility and by the inevitably high profile given to any mixed-sex friendship. Younger for their age, boys in a class tended to clump assertively together, girls to form quietly scornful twos and threes. The only other girl in Sophie's div – the name given to a general class – was Kimiko Matsubara, a painfully shy Japanese, who clung to her like a lemur between lessons but had no small talk. This suited Sophie, who was naturally independent and cautious, as it gave her the appearance of a friendship without the emotional commitment.

Even as the school boasted of the psychological healthiness of being mixed-sex, an unspoken horror of pregnancy was evident in its every policy decision. There were stories, myths effectively, of couples who had been caught, disgraced and expelled. The Daughters' rose garden was said to be haunted by the ghost of a baby, secretly delivered, stifled and buried there under a magnificent bush of Great Maiden's Blush. To hear it cry was to be in imminent danger of disgrace oneself.

Boys could visit if Nurse was present and approved. Girls' daylight visits to boys, in pairs, were only possible on securing a handwritten permit from Nurse explaining their visit's purpose. This was a highly effective deterrent; it was peculiarly difficult to find a pretext for a visit that did not shrivel into paltry deceit when carefully repeated by her as she formed it in her respectable, school-report hand.

'Miss Tyler, accompanied by Miss Legg, wishing to consult Nicholas Macdonald Hay concerning the life cycle of the flea.'

'Miss Legg, accompanied by Miss Crosbie, wishing to consult Magnus Fisher concerning the bowing of Brandenburg Number 3.'

And all this accompanied by knowing looks and laughter. Sophie had witnessed the process often enough to know it was not for her. Besides, not knowing the boy's name, she would have had to have found a boy in his house she knew, however tenuously, then staged a visit on a trumped-up pretext in the hope of glimpsing the boy who mattered. He was a Commoner, about her height, and he looked good in a dress. That was all she knew.

She contented herself with glimpsing him in Brick Quad or on the path to Stinks, the science blocks, between lessons, looking in vain for a moment when he might talk to someone she already knew.

Then she found that he swam. She had always liked swimming, not just because it was free but because it required no coordination of limb; eye and ball. Best of all, for a girl uncomfortable with her body, who hated sweating, it brought the merciful illusions of being clean, cool and almost bodiless. Once she was up to her neck in water, that was. There remained the hell of pulling on a swimsuit and passing gingerly from changing room to pool through sanitizing shower and footbath and the merciless gaze of others. With her hair tugged up in a regulation rubber cap, however, and her eyes hidden in hideous goggles, she knew she was unrecognizable even before she reached the water.

She saw him by chance. She happened to have finished a length and be turning just as he walked through the boys' footbath and took his place in a lane four over from hers. He dived in with unsplashy efficiency and was immediately hidden from view amid all the bobbing heads and windmilling arms. But she knew he was there, sharing the water with her. She swam on and on, exhausting herself until the rowdies and paddlers began to queue up for the start of Rec Swim. She scanned the remaining length-swimmers in his lane as she walked to the girls' changing room and realized he must have left while her back was turned.

Her breakthrough sighting of him, a few weeks later, came during that year's Junior Play, a modish staging of Louis MacNeice's radio drama, The Dark Tower, complete with daringly loud Pink Floyd soundtrack. He played the hero's mother, in false eyelashes, somebody's not-quite Chanel suit and a long blonde wig. Someone in the make-up department had tried to age the wig with white powder, clouds of which came off whenever he moved his head. Sophie recognized him only when he patted the sofa beside him bossily and said the line, 'Now, Roland, sit here by me on the sofa. We'll look at them backwards.'

He reappeared, dancing, in a black Eton Crop wig and a knee-length beaded dress as part of the partying crowd in a later scene. For some reason she couldn't fathom they were all shouting, 'And we shake the bag! And we shake the bag!'

Once the lights came up at the end she was able to look up his name in the programme. Lucas Behrman. As was her instinct, she immediately translated the two words into a picture to fix them in her memory: a man with a blazing lantern in his hand and a bear walking beside him. Light Bearman.

She glimpsed him a couple more times between classes but there seemed to be no predictability to his movements. And now the carol service was upon them and Illumina, the end of term festivities, and she was beside herself, only discreetly. She thought about him all the time, even during a maths test, and her scores began to slip, which shook her.

Then Kimiko Matsubara quietly, almost apologetically, reported that he was in Middle Part and the boarding house known as Dougal's. She even had his home address.

'Whatever makes you think I'd be interested?' Sophie snapped. 'You're the one in love with him, clearly. Why should I care? How'd you find out, anyway?'

'There's a little book of names and addresses. You can consult it at Jago's.'

Jago's was the school's stationers and booksellers, which printed the school newspaper and notepaper as a sideline, and this little book.

Sophie dismissed Kimiko with suitable scorn then ran round to see the book for herself, horrified that nobody had thought to point it out to her in her first weeks at the place. It was a tiny paperback, bound in blue sugar paper with the school's crest and the term and the year on the front. Oh yes, old Miss Jago told her, Short Roll was produced every term. That term's print run had long since sold out, of course, but Miss Cullen was welcome to consult the browsing edition. This was a much-thumbed and defaced copy dangling on a thin chain at one end of the shop's only counter.

The listings started with the Warden, governing body and staff then descended from the specialized empyrean of the upper sixth to the most junior Commoners. After that, to her dismay, came a comprehensive listing of everyone's names and addresses, in alphabetical order, staff as well as pupils, embarrassing middle names and all. It was a primer in social distinctions. Some were suddenly revealed as grand, with a surname that matched their house, or even village. The less fortunate might live somewhere with a telltale suburban plural in the address – The Rowans or Four Winds. One of the more retiring dons had to squirm before the public exposure of his being a secret Beverly. Sophie had no middle names which, she realized looking at the list, made her odd.

Lucas Daniel Behrman, she read and memorized, placing the lantern-bearer and his bear in a circle of lions. 17 Tinker's Hill. A local boy. Day pupils were a rare novelty and the fact was recorded with an asterisk beside the D that showed he was in Dougal's. Thanks to hours spent walking and bicycling its leafy streets, Sophie had developed a taxi driver's mind-map of the city's districts. Tinker's Hill was smart – private houses on an unadopted road, each different from its neighbour. It was expensive but not as smart as its residents hoped. The houses were visible from the pavement, after all, were nearly all postwar and, with names like Shangri-La and Marble Halls, a local byword for new money. Sophie was relieved at this; she felt it gave Lucas a certain social vulnerability to offset her own, although it could hardly match it.

Her address was displayed with brutal honesty. Wakefield House. Her first, irrational impulse was to tear out the page with her name on but she realized the address had been there all term and no one had passed comment so perhaps nobody had realized its significance.

But he was local. He would know or would easily find out. Until now she had told no one. Not that she was ashamed. Not exactly. But she preferred not to stand out or seem in any way odd. Having skimmed a few Mallory Towers novels out of idle curiosity, she had dreaded the first girlish interrogation but it never came. The few girls who were interested in status symbols, houses, cars, fathers' jobs, previous education, university plans, were so only in relation to themselves and could easily be diverted into describing their own backgrounds at length. If they then remembered their manners sufficiently to ask about her again, Sophie could shrug and say something like, 'Oh, nothing so exciting. The usual, really,' or 'So normal it makes me yawn.'

To be ordinary was fine, so long as one had the modesty to admit it. Perhaps in reaction to an ethos of excellence, smugness was perceived as the cardinal social crime in boys and girls alike. It amazed her to hear how some people rattled on about their family and possessions and pony and this and that, blithely handing over ammunition to be used against them the moment they were out of earshot.

Wakefield House was the town orphanage, not long renamed a children's home. It had been her address, her home indeed, since she was five but she suspected she had been in care longer than that. She knew nothing about her parents, if they were loving but dead or the reverse. For a long time she had toyed with the idea that both were dead and that she had been too old or unappealing an infant for anyone to want to adopt her. Since arriving at Wakefield House, however, she had annual conversations with a social worker so had been able to confirm each year that, no thank you, she was happy where she was and did not wish to be considered for either fostering or adoption.

The novels she had read that featured orphans had got it wrong. She did not long for her flesh-and-blood parents or lie awake at night weeping, because Margaret and Kieran, the childless, forty-something couple who ran the home, were ideal parent substitutes. Paid to put children at the centre of their lives but as calmly affectionate towards their charges as they were with one another. They were warm, funny, just sensible enough not to be dull and always to hand. Other people complained of fathers so wedded to their work they were rarely at home but Kieran was so wedded to his, he rarely left it.

There was some swapping of rooms whenever children left but Sophie had always turned down offers of a change, electing to stay in the same small bedroom above the kitchen extension. There she could hear balls being kicked in the yard or Margaret and Kieran murmuring as they worked down below, but the view from her window was away over rooftops, up the hill from the river, towards the cathedral. When she wanted to be private and alone, which was most of the time, she could be there and lose herself in a book yet have just enough sounds from the house to feel anchored somewhere safe.

She remembered virtually nothing from before she came there, perhaps because of the lack of pictures or keepsakes that might have locked early memories in place. She remembered a small blue room with a window filled with the whirling leaves of a wind-stirred tree and, she was sure, remembered the sensation of sitting on her mother's lap, one hand resting on the back of her mother's fingers as they traced the words in a book. Books were her principal memory. Whenever she tried to think back to the time before Wakefield House, it was the rustling of pages and dim, mysterious smells of paper and glue that came to her. Her only photograph of that time was of herself as a serious toddler, learning to walk, propping herself upright with the big volumes at the bottom of a wall of closely filled bookshelves. If she looked very closely, she could make out the shadow of whoever took the photograph but they were hunched down so it was impossible to discern more than that it was a person with two legs.

She could not remember not reading. The great gaps in her early memories were filled with narratives shared by millions of other children: Ali Baba, Babar the Elephant, Ferdinand the Bull, Orlando the Marmalade Cat, Winnie the Pooh, Alice. Especially Alice, for whom she retained a deep affection; a girl who, like herself, seemed to spring into fiercely cogitating being without the assistance of a family or even much of a home life. She had arrived at school already a keen reader, apparently, and had quickly adopted the practice of reading far ahead of any unambitiously short passage prescribed for homework. Absorbing and remembering the contents of a book was for her as simple a task as looking through glass and she found most tests and exams a matter of consulting her near-photographic recollection of the page on which a piece of information was set out. It was only when she encountered autistic children and observed their baffling combination of chronic detachment and total absorption that she recognized elements of autism in herself. She compared her ease of understanding with her contemporaries, and saw how they muddied their perceptions by trying to interpret what they perceived before they had fully perceived it. Their thoughts and personalities got in the way. Sophie's understanding, she realized, was more neutral, as detached as a camera lens from whatever passed through it. She could become passionately identified with narrative, but information – a maths theorem, the various meanings of a new word, the principal rivers and products of the British counties – plainly presented, stowed itself in the drawers of her memory like so many squarely ironed handkerchiefs and could be brought out again exactly as it went in.


Excerpted from Friendly Fire by Patrick Gale. Copyright © 2005 Patrick Gale. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Friendly Fire 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
NeilDalley on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Gale wanted to re-tell some of his own experiences at school and deal with the complexities of being a gay adolescent. Instead of crafting the novel around this - which would have seemed too obvious - he cleverly looks at things from a new perspective. The main character is a teenage girl at a public school who befriends and falls in love with a fellow male pupil who is soon revealed as our gay character. He is, therefore, able to show both her experience and that of her gay friend. It is a wonderful read and the characters are very real. I felt an interest and concern for them and was quickly drawn into the story and passionately wanted the outcome to be positive for them.
Bembo on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A satisfying tale concerning school girl Sophie and her two friends, Lucas and Charlie, their relationship with one another and with a particular school master.