Newspaper man's Truman Show tells of a family unravelling
Fiction: Love, Love Me Do Mark Haysom Piatkus, pbk, £13.99, 448 pages
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We're not to judge a book by its cover. Yeah, yeah, yeah, as The Beatles might say. The cover of Love, Love Me Do is a case in point. While I understand the cover's rationale, I don't understand how it got past the marketeers. The cover is abysmal. The book isn't.
This is not a slim volume, yet most of the story occurs on Friday, August 2, 1963. Between 5.24am and 8.45pm, to be precise. The plot unravels through a chain of perspectives from the principal characters, four adults and a shy, frightened boy of eight, Baxter. Baxter's family are "on holiday" in a caravan, moored in a remote part of Ashdown Forest. Having dumped them there for the summer, Baxter's father – a monster called Truman whose real name is Eric – takes off on a philandering spree, returning regularly but never staying.
Baxter's mother, Christie, becomes increasingly anxious about the situation, and decides that the "holiday" is over.
What she doesn't know is that Truman's world is collapsing, minute by minute, all in one day.
And that Truman's victims – financers and mistresses – are seeking revenge. Truman decides to effectively use Baxter as a human shield when the excrement hits the expel-air, and things get very dark indeed on this hot August day.
The backdrop is affectionately depicted; it is the time of the author's childhood. In 1963, The Beatles roar up the charts with the song of the book's title. It's also 18 years since World War Two, and Britain's walking wounded are suffering. One of them appears in the novel, his mind and speech gone. He is Baxter's only friend. The poignant episodes between Baxter and the silent "Soldier" are beautifully crafted. Mark Haysom is a man familiar with popular reading trends. He worked in newspapers for 30 years, ultimately as MD of the Mirror Group. One might argue that he's been shrewd in picking his target for this debut; the book is bound to succeed. That said, this novel is both original and stylish. Critics, though, in an effort to "liken" him to someone, will probably choose Nick Hornby. If he can grin and bear it every time this happens, I reckon he'll be fine.