This is an interesting one.

Mr Toppit is the story of the impact of a series of children’s books on the family of the author, Arthur Hayman, after he is run over by a cement lorry when walking in London. The story is mostly told from the point of view of his son, Luke, who has been immortalised in the books as Luke Hayseed (the series is known as The Hayseed Chronicles) . The novel follows Luke, his mother, sister, and Laurie, the American woman who was with Arthur when he died and for reasons of her own takes up the cause of the novel when she gets back home, and kick starts a publishing phenomenon.

Which doesn’t really tell you very much about the story at all. And it is a difficult novel to summarise or explain, and part of that is that I went into it expecting one thing and actually got something else. I blame the blurb, myself. I have long enjoyed (if that’s the word) trying to match the puff on the back of a book with what’s inside; most of the time it’s all fine, but on occasions they do diverge and that can sometimes affect how I view the tale itself.

So, the paperback cover says

buried deep inside the books lie secrets that begin to shake the Hayman family,

which reads to me that a major mystery will be divulged, and (without giving anything away) that really doesn’t happen. Or maybe the secret that does emerge, while sad, isn’t really a life-changing thing and is a bit anti-climactic.

And it’s a shame, actually, because what you do get is an entertaining and, on occasions, funny story about what happens when something takes on a life of its own in popular culture; when a series of books gets away from the ownership of the person who wrote them and the family he based them on; when people get so attached to something that they feel they are its custodians and know the author’s intentions better than he does; and when people who are looking for something missing in their own lives adapt what they read to try to fill that gap.

I enjoyed reading this; it’s not a great novel by any means but its entertaining, and has some amusing insights into the world of publishing and show business, though to be fair I’m not involved in either of those worlds so it could all be wildly off-beam, but it seemed convincing to me. I particularly liked Luke himself, coping as best he can with a life he didn’t want and a connection with a character which doesn’t really reflect him at all.

My only quibbles are that the big secret isn’t that big; Laurie’s subplot really doesn’t go anywhere; and it sort of ends suddenly without really reaching any kind of conclusion. It also seemed a bit timeless; I think it was set in the 80s but it felt like it was actually set in the 60s, and I found that a bit disorienting.

But I wanted to know what happened and so finished the second half of the book in one sitting, and you can’t say fairer than that, can you?

Advertisements