What maketh the man?

Tom Houghton - Todd Alexander
Paperback, 295 pages, Expected publication: October 1 2015 by Simon & Schuster AU 

Escaping the school yard bullying and the dramas of home, young Tom Houghton turns to golden age of Hollywood cinema. Whereas older Tom Houghton has turned 40, is starring in a gender role reversal of ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf’ and struggling with his identity.
I was provided with a copy from NetGalley for a review.
I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and its complexity. The story is told by 12 year old Tom ad 40 year old Tom and the cross over in narrative is easy to follow. Older Tom at 40 is a mess, he has no self-worth, is prone to acts of self-destruction and is trying to maintain a relationship with his daughter. The younger Tom is self-obsessed, highly intelligent and fixated on being something better than the school bullies.  As you move between the viewpoint of young and old Tom both voices are engaging. It is younger Tom’s story that really comes to the fore and that you connect with as his social awkwardness and lack of awareness to his situation is endearing. You really feel for him as you know that a certain disaster is coming his way.
The characters that surround both Toms are wonderfully constructed. His mother Lana is a contradiction and an ongoing influence in Tom’s life. On one hand she is a beautiful caring mother on the other she is an emotional wreck. She will spend days in bed, brings men home and is unable to cope with the curveballs life throws at her. The children that Tom are terrorised by are awful in their attempts to belittle him. What they do is heart wrenching and vicious.
The older Tom is an interesting character, less likeable and you have little sympathy for the many mistakes he makes. He is an unlikeable and with very few redeeming qualities. As you reflect on what has made older Tom who is, you begin to develop a level of sympathy.  There are a couple times when Tom almost becomes a clichéd homosexual drama queen but thankfully this is not allowed to happen. Tom’s daughter Lexie is interesting and provides a nice counterpoint as it is for her he tries to be a decent person. Their interactions provide the best understanding of who Tom is and the difficulties he is trying to overcome.

It would be easy to say that Tom Houghton is novel about the difficulties of being accepted for who we are but also learning to accept how to trust others. Yet there is a greater level of intricacy about relationships, love, acceptance, understanding and forgiveness. That these things are difficult to obtain and even more difficult to accept when they are being offered to you. I really enjoyed the novel and the two worlds that are captured.

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