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Pale Highway – Nicholas Conley

18 Nov

pale-highwayGabriel Schist is spending his remaining years at Bright New Day, a nursing home. He once won the Nobel Prize for inventing a vaccine for AIDS. But now, he has Alzheimer’s, and his mind is slowly slipping away.

When one of the residents comes down with a horrific virus, Gabriel realizes that he is the only one who can find a cure. Encouraged by Victor, an odd stranger, he convinces the administrator to allow him to study the virus. Soon, reality begins to shift, and Gabriel’s hallucinations interfere with his work.

As the death count mounts, Gabriel is in a race against the clock and his own mind. Can he find a cure before his brain deteriorates past the point of no return?

With a growing elderly population, this book serves as not only a character study on one man’s fight against his own mind and body but also to highlight the continuing need to help the older generation and try to understand before it is our turn.

The name of the nursing home where Gabriel resides is the Bright New Day Skilled Nursing Center which is one of those names that by association makes the place sound awfully bleak.  Behind the name is and let’s be fair a pretty cynical business structure in a lot of cases, staffed by worker who want to make a difference but are strung out by the lack of help and corner cutting, as the author’s own experiences in this field attest.

It is poignant and refreshing for a book to be written about those who feel forgotten by their relatives and the outside world, it’s perhaps something that should scare, the fear that our bodies could rebel against us and we would end up confused and in one of these centres.  This is captured well here, the day-to-day struggles of keeping one’s dignity and constantly finding one’s place in the world make for a sense of dislocation and reorientation something that is more of a habit than innate.

I found it a challenge to focus on the book in hand as opposed to real life as both are so intertwined, which is the book’s strongest point.  Fleshing out Gabriel’s character in particular with chapters detailing, in order some of the key moments of his life, allow a compare and contrast with the man we know and the journey he has taken.  It’s a rich life, full of vitality and experience, a reminder to us all to pay attention to who we meet and how we can effect one another.

Gabriel’s desire to learn and combat this new and gory – as the author always does so well – virus, whilst simultaneously living with the fear of having his cognitive powers taken away from him lends the book a more dramatic edge, the knowledge that at any moment his illness could debilitate him really makes for a protagonist you cheer on and fear for in equal measures.  What is real and what is hallucination and how to tell when both seem equally convincing?

What I liked best about Pale Highway is that it takes on a character who has had it all, has taken pride in his mind that won him a Nobel Prize and now is diminished and feels lesser than the people he lives with.  This feeling of the loss of talent and the coping with that realisation is truly saddening and his last chance at the redemption of that is to fight this new plague that is truly horrifying.

The book isn’t all doom and gloom though, the other patients peopling the home are at once as lovable as they are infuriating. There are light moments of whimsy and intrigue and overall this pacy read would make a good addition to any book shelf, as not just a good story but also a study of the character traits of one man and perhaps the frustration of a generation.

Check out Nicholas’ blog and his debut novel The Cage Legacy too.

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38 Comments

Posted by on 18/11/2015 in Fiction

 

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38 responses to “Pale Highway – Nicholas Conley

  1. vsvevg

    18/11/2015 at 17:23

    wow, great storyline, Ill check it out : ) thanks for another great review Ste J!

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    • Ste J

      18/11/2015 at 17:45

      I think their should be more stories told from this demographic, it gives a new perspective on life and much wisdom.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  2. Resa

    18/11/2015 at 17:29

    Sigh, aging is the shits! I’m glad you mentioned that there are light moments of whimsy & intrigue especially since I’m still inwardly chuckling at the lead character’s last name. This sounds like a relevant and interesting story. Thanks Ste J

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    • Ste J

      18/11/2015 at 17:51

      It needs the lightness to balance it out and its there but subtly done so as not to make light of a sensitive subject. You’re right with so many people suffering from cognitive diseases and the platform they’ve been given on various media it feels more relevant than ever, it’s an insight into a world I hadn’t had much experience of and understanding it will make me more sensitive to the subject, if and when it comes along.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. Jill Weatherholt

    18/11/2015 at 17:58

    Great review, Ste J. This would be a tough read for me, as the topic hits close to home.

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    • Ste J

      18/11/2015 at 18:04

      I can imagine it would resonate with a lot of people, it is a sensitive subject but it is handled with care that Nicholas’ experiences have given him.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  4. Love, Life and Whatever

    18/11/2015 at 18:17

    Sounds engaging sort of like some Hollywood flick….have you beautiful mind…I loved the movie.

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    • Ste J

      18/11/2015 at 18:22

      Yes that was a great film, I really enjoyed it and it dealt with the subject in a sensitive way. I think this book will be one for you if you enjoyed A Beautiful Mind, the mind is truly a mysterious place.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. shadowoperator

    18/11/2015 at 21:03

    I’ve heard the name of Nicholas Conley before, but never read anything of his. I had thought he just wrote thrillers and the like. Sounds like a really good read! We can always rely on you to discover a “sleeper,” you know, a book which hides its value at first glance, but then turns out to be really good.

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    • Ste J

      19/11/2015 at 15:37

      There may be more than one Nicholas Conley authoring out there, this is only (this) Nicolas’ second novel, you may have heard of him from my review of his first book The Cage Legacy. The blurb fascinated me and following his blog, I was sniffing around as soon as politeness permitted, I do like finding books that make people think and don’t get the coverage they deserve.

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  6. macjam47

    18/11/2015 at 21:48

    Wow! Having Alzheimer’s would be horrific. And what a race against time! A wonderful review of a book that covers a tough subject.

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    • Ste J

      19/11/2015 at 15:11

      It is one of those subjects that is scary and to attempt to separate the book from real life is a real challenge to do when writing about it, I enjoyed the challenge though and the book itself made me more aware of the subject as a whole which is always a good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  7. clarepooley33

    19/11/2015 at 00:20

    This sounds like a great book Ste – thanks for the review. I used to do voluntary work looking after people suffering from memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease and any book that deals with the subject and highlights the terrible problems these poor people face is a hit with me.

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    • Ste J

      19/11/2015 at 15:29

      It goes into all of that and also the internal struggles of a man aware that he is not what he once was and his diminished state, it must have been a tough job for you, especially as it was voluntary. Subjects like this should get more coverage and to have it in book form is always the best form of media in my totally biased opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • clarepooley33

        20/11/2015 at 01:18

        I agree. The more publicity the better. The job was tough at times but also very rewarding and great fun too. Music seemed to be the key to getting people talking and remembering.

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        • Ste J

          20/11/2015 at 13:43

          Music seems to be the key at all ages of life intriguingly, I wonder what it is about it, perhaps the mathematics in music is the key.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  8. Alastair Savage

    19/11/2015 at 08:51

    On the subject of aging, I always liked Martin Amis’ Time’s Arrow which features a man living his life backwards (actually a Nazi war criminal) and features the joy of suddenly losing all the aches, pains and inconveniences of old age.
    Apropos of nothing, have you managed to find a Biergarten in Berlin yet? I’m sure there must be some about.

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    • Ste J

      19/11/2015 at 15:21

      I haven’t read Time arrow, I have heard of it though, it’s probably on the list, it sounds like a grimmer The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

      We didn’t find a Biergarten, we didn’t look to hard as that would have ruined the next day as we suffered, we chose to be focussed and get around the sites, maybe with another couple of days we would have gone for it and learnt lots of songs from our jolly German brethren. It’s a good excuse to go back at any rate.

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  9. gargoylebruce

    19/11/2015 at 09:32

    I love books with old folk as protagonist. This sounds awesome. I know what you mean about the ironic names – there’s a place in the Valley called Sunflower House. As you would expect it is a shabby, fibro, ill-kept hostel for the pre-homeless with a rusty sign and a courtyard made entirely of concrete.

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    • Ste J

      19/11/2015 at 15:16

      Is it me or do old folk seem marginalised as protagonists in the literary world? I can’t imagine why giving something a nice name would actually help, they could at least give the names a comedy twist or perhaps advertise a free ball pit and slide, that would sell me. I do like how Sunflower House didn’t even attempt to live up to its name, that’s somewhere I would go as the marketing is as lazy as me and that appeals.

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      • gargoylebruce

        19/11/2015 at 19:40

        Yes, there aren’t many old folk gracing the literary stage, although they do seem to be having a bit of a moment in the sun in the mainstream fiction world just at the moment. I wouldn’t suggest going to the actual Sunflower House if you’re ever down this way. Despite its industrial charm, it looks like the sort of place where you might get lice…or be stabbed through the eyeball with a shank carved from a mouldy old toothbrush.

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        • Ste J

          20/11/2015 at 13:36

          I enjoy having some weird experiences so I can write about them but there are limits to my pursuits of such encounters thankfully.

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  10. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    19/11/2015 at 16:21

    Since I’m rapidly sliding down the slippery slope of this reality (old age) I believe this book is a must read for me. In my declining mental state, no doubt the name Sunflower House would appeal to me simply because I love sunflowers 🙂 However, my key word to remember (other than my first name), when my mind has taken it’s final leap into the void, is Forsythia. Love the flower, the bush, the brilliant yellow and I plan to torture my under paid, over worked caregivers by constantly repeating, “forsythia, forsythia, forsythia, forsythia, forsythia…….” 😀 😀 😀

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    • Ste J

      20/11/2015 at 14:24

      Haha, I can see you being one of those eccentrics that people really appreciate who brightens the days. Forsythia is quite a catchy word, now you mention in repeatedly hehe.

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  11. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    19/11/2015 at 21:43

    The plot sounds quite intriguing. Building a character like Gabriel who was once a great talent and now suffering from Alzheimer’s, needs a skill, I think Alzheimer’s is such a horrible thing! One of my friends, her father is suffering from it and it brings tears to our eyes when we watch a person…once a lively soul, is slowly slipping away from the reality of life…

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    • Ste J

      20/11/2015 at 13:58

      It is a terrifying prospect to see someone declining as well as worrying for one’s self. As a former care worker, Nicholas is in a great position to write about the subject and he does it well.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  12. Lucy

    20/11/2015 at 07:16

    Aha! Thanks for reviewing this, I follow his blog too, and have been thinking about reading this, especially as I too am surrounded by old people. Most of my own writing involves older people, they have a logical amount of time to observe events happening and have adventures, without jobs and kids getting in the way.

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    • Ste J

      20/11/2015 at 13:42

      It all sounds a bit Last of the summer Wine, give them a bath tub and a field with some bales of hay and they will be well happy.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  13. Sherri

    23/11/2015 at 14:27

    A powerful and moving read this Ste, both your review and the book as you describe it. Your last line says so much about the story ‘…but also a study of the character traits of one man and perhaps the frustration of a generation.’ Brilliant review, brilliantly written. One for me to read well after I’ve finished writing my memoir…thank you my friend.

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    • Ste J

      24/11/2015 at 17:50

      How are you faring on the memoir? Being a fan of yours I know it will be a fascinating read and with Christmas coming up you could always mention Pale Highway as a possible gift, I have a habit of quoting the entirety of the link to my Amazon book list around this time of year.

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  14. leapingtracks

    26/11/2015 at 09:20

    Thank you for highlighting such an important topic through this excellent review (and thanks also to the author for writing the book in the first place of course). I think it is hard for anyone to grasp the difficulties and realities of dementia unless it is experienced first hand either as a patient or a carer. I found the book Elizabeth Is Missing, by Emma Healey to be a fine read on this subject and I have also heard that Sally Magnusson’s Where Memories Go is excellent.

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    • Ste J

      26/11/2015 at 16:06

      I shall look these books up, it is always good to learn and try to understand the subject as best we can. It’s a tough subject to tackle and I have the utmost respect to anybody who can write about it sensitively and thought provokingly.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  15. RoSy

    28/11/2015 at 05:32

    All sorts of emotions running through with just reading your review.

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    • Ste J

      28/11/2015 at 19:36

      I think it resonates with a lot of people and so it is only right and proper that the subject is handled with tact and skill, which it is in this instance and makes for a moving read.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  16. readinpleasure

    15/12/2015 at 17:06

    Great review, Ste J. 🙂

    I think this book is a noble one, from the themes and plot. We will all get there one day, you know, I mean aging. And to read this book is to call for deep reflections. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      15/12/2015 at 19:46

      Thank you my friend, It certainly puts life into perspective and it’s good to remind and inform of us of such things and how we treat people at that time of life.

      Like

       

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