MR. TOPPIT by Charles Elton

Book Quote:

“As for me, I made myself scarce. I had enough problems with it at school, and it was too much to cope with dashed expectations on the faces of strangers. It wasn’t my fault that I had grown up. I couldn’t stay a seven year-old forever, trapped on the pages of the books. I was still just about recognizable as the boy in Lila’s drawings and the comparison was not a favorable one. I came to learn the national characteristics of disappointment: the resentfulness of the English, the downright hostility of the French, who looked as if they might ask for their money back, the touching sadness on the gentle faces of the Japanese – such pain that I both was and wasn’t the boy in the books. I was Dorian Gray in reverse: my attic was in every bookshop in the world.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (DEC 24, 2010)

The first half of Mr. Toppit takes its readers for a grand ride. This debut novel, written by Charles Elton, has had quite a following in the United Kingdom and has just been released in the United States. It is a novel about speculation and conjecture, the ‘what ifs’ of life, and wishing things might have been different. Mostly though, it is about Luke Hayman and how he became immortalized in his father’s Hayseed Chronicles as the boy who eluded Mr. Toppit in the Darkwood.

Arthur Hayman has led a somewhat ordinary life working in the film industry as a writer of small scenes for mostly grade B movies. At the same time, he has been writing a series of books for older children called The Hayseed Chronicles. The series is about Luke Hayseed and how he has tricked and evaded the evil Mr. Toppit in the Darkwood. Mr. Toppit is not only evil but he is cruel, invincible, invisible and, like the worst dreams of a child’s nightmares, ever-present. There are five books in the series and, though Arthur has a publisher, these books have not done very well and are not well known.

One day, Arthur is walking down the street and gets run over by a truck. Laurie Clow, an American tourist in London who has a part-time radio show in Modesto, California, sees what happens and goes to Arthur’s side. She stays with him until he’s placed in an ambulance. Arthur dies from the injuries and, somehow, Laurie manages to get herself invited to the family home and becomes an indispensable fixture. There is Martha, Arthur’s flaky and obtuse wife, with secrets up the yin-yang. Then there is Rachel who, left out of her father’s books entirely, lives her life abusing drugs and experimenting with life on the wild side. Luke, up to this time, has lived his life as a relatively conforming child. He has not yet become famous. This is about to change. There is also Lila, a laugh-out-loud funny character, who has been the artist for the books. She hates Laurie and will go to any length to try and get her out of Hayman’s home. Lila is histrionic and a hypochondriac, a mixture that garners some good laughs.

As the book opens Luke is twelve years old and Rachel is sixteen. Laurie returns to Modesto and decides to read the books live on her radio show. This creates a sensation and the books become mega-sellers – think Harry Potter, Wizard of Oz, Winnie the Pooh. Charles Elton, during an interview, stated that one of the reasons he wrote this book is that he wondered what happens to the characters that books are based upon in mega-sellers such as Winnie the Pooh. Meanwhile, Laurie moves to San Francisco and then Los Angeles where she has a syndicated television show. Her contact with the Haymans is much less but they live with the fallout of their instant fame.

Once Laurie reaches her zenith of fame, the book slows down and the story becomes more drawn out and less immediate. The reader is privy to Luke’s struggle with his own identity as Luke Hayman and NOT Luke Hayseed. He spends a lot of time trying to track down his sister who is often out of contact. He reflects on how his life would have been different if he was not known as Luke Hayseed. And why did his father write just about him? There was plenty of room to share with his sister. By the time the book ends, Luke is a university student and Rachel is a young woman. Family secrets abound and many of them are revealed in part two. However, there are parts of the book that are just left hanging and don’t come together, parts I was waiting to learn about – like Laurie’s relationship with her friend that went sour. What happened with Martha and Ray?

The book is immensely readable. I went through the close to 400 pages in three days and felt like I really had a sense of each character. Charles Elton is an author to watch. He has a wonderful ear for dialogue and a wonderful gift of imagination.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 32 readers
PUBLISHER: Other Press; 1 edition (November 9, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: BookPage interview with Charles Elton
EXTRAS: Excerpt (see look inside on publisher’s page)
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Not the same, but still a childhood affected by a fictional hero:


December 24, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: California, Contemporary, Debut Novel, United Kingdom

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