I found it on the back of another book. That’s one of the things I love about reading old editions, and books from certain small and specialist presses, they come with lists and sometimes details of other books to investigate. Numbered Penguins allow me to spot other books I might know or I might want to know that joined the Penguin list around the same time as, and carry numbers close to, the book in my hand. And it’s lovely to see the list of Persephone titles listed in the back of every dove-grey book growing over the years.
But I found the book called Lonely in a list of titles on the back of an old copy of Jon Godden’s The House by the Sea, a list of new books being published in 1947. There were titles and names I recognised and titles and names I did not. But the book called Lonely caught my eye. I couldn’t help wanting to pull it closer, particularly when I saw that it was written by Paul Gallico whose writing had such wonderful qualities that could make a story with such a title sing.
I found a copy in the library’s fiction reserve and I placed my order.
Lonely is the story of Jerry, who grew up on Long Island, a much loved only child. A young man with a happy and successful future, with his childhood sweetheart by his side, mapped out for him. But war sidelined those plans, and Jerry became a fighter pilot. He was based in England, so far from his home. He knew he was doing the right thing, but he felt very alone in such a very different world.
And he was at a loss to know what to do when it was time to go on furlough. Another pilot suggested that he should go to Scotland, and that he should take Patches, a WAAF who had leave at the same time. Jerry knew Patches, a bright and popular girl, and he was sure they could have a good time together. No strings attached. He didn’t know that Patches was in love with him and that was why she accepted with alacrity, and that she accepted that because Jerry had a girlfriend back home she would not express her feelings.
They had a wonderful, wonderful time, and they parted with a handshake, exactly as they had agreed. Patches returned to base, and Jerry seized the chance of a quick trip back home. And it was then that he had fallen in love with Patches, and that he hadn’t known what love was before.
But back home Jerry struggled, realising that his parents and a girl he still cared for had so much invested in the plans they had made for the future, and that they had no way of understanding how his experiences had changed him.
And, of course he had no idea how much Patches loved him, or if he would ever see her again.
Lonely is the story of Jerry’s coming of age. It is beautifully told, with every emotion and every nuance caught quite perfectly. What particularly struck me, was the change in the relationship between parents and child. I found myself understanding every word, every action, and with my heart in my mouth because I so wanted a happy ending, but I couldn’t quite see how it might come about.
I understood too that the book was called Lonely, because it is so very lonely when you are unable to express or to share such fundamental feelings. That understanding is threaded right through the story.
Lonely is a very short book, but it says so much, simply and clearly. It misses nothing, and touches on every aspect of every relationship. And it is a moving, and utterly believable love story, to inspire both smiles and tears, and to touch the deeper emotions that lie behind them.
I was swept along, completely wrapped up in the story, to an ending that was unexpected but exactly right.