Mr. Toppit ~ by Charles Elton (reviewed by John/JD)
A quirky, funny and sad tale about what happens to a dysfunctional family when the father’s iconic children’s tales become wildly successful after his untimely death.
Luke Hayman isn’t happy. As a young teenager he has to cope with the unexpected death of his father, Arthur Hayman, who is run over by a cement truck. Arthur was an unsuccessful screenwriter who had decided to try his hand at writing children’s fantasy novels. Those too were unsuccessful – until he died. Then, following some odd and fateful circumstances, his novels become hugely popular all around the world. But that too makes Luke unhappy, for his father’s “Hayseed Chronicles” feature a hero by the name of Luke Hayseed that everyone wrongly assumes is closely based on the real-life Luke. As the books and associated merchandise become global best sellers, no-one is interested in hearing Luke’s denials, everyone thinks they know him, and his privacy is shattered.
As if that wasn’t enough, some are determined to exploit the Hayseed Chronicles for their own benefit, and the pressure on Luke, his oddball mother and his fragile sister becomes unbearable. As they start to crumble under the pressure, things are not helped by some dark secrets from the past of Arthur and his wife.
Elton’s inspiration for the book was finding out that Christopher Robin hated being featured in his father’s Winnie the Pooh books. Take that situation and the son’s bitterness, transfer them to a Harry Potter-type series of fantasy novels with multiple movie and merchandise spin-offs, mix in some emotional turmoil caused by a dysfunctional family, and you have Mr. Toppit.
This is a clever and entertaining book, and an impressive debut novel. Among other things it encompasses post-war England, modern-day Hollywood, culture clashes, the impact of fame on private lives, and the survival struggles of a middle-class family. It is well written, easy to read, features some interesting and well-developed characters and has plenty of dark humor.
I didn’t particularly like the way the story ended, but I’d still rate this book 3.5 stars and recommend it to anyone who likes reading interesting novels that are a bit out of the ordinary.
Paperback: 400 pages; Other Press; Reprint edition (November 9, 2010 - first published in the UK in 2009)
The copy of this book was send via the publisher Other Press at my request. If you would like more information please see Layers of Thought’s preview for Mr. Toppit.
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Thanks for reading.