Bear in Mind

Paddytum by Tricia Heighway; a review.

It’s a double-edged sword having so many author friends. We all like our books to be read, and so we often trade. ‘You read mine, I’ll read yours.’ Sounds like a fab deal, right? Tell me any avid reader who would balk at such a thing. On the flip side, though, what happens when you read a book written by a friend and you hate it? The grammar makes your skin crawl, the punctuation displays a serious lack of even the most basic understanding of the rules, and worst of all, the story is such a yawnfest it’s a struggle to reach the end. You’re left in the unenviable position of having to give your review and possibly wound your friend. You could just lie and say how wonderful it was, and be very generic, or you could be honest and try to be constructive. Alas, some authors have fragile egos, so a lie is often the best way out.

Having become a friend of Tricia Heighway, and having already pre-ordered Paddytum, I knew I was taking a risk since this was her first novel and I had yet to read a single word written by her (Facebook not withstanding). I was pretty sure I was going to like the book from the moment I first read the blurb and learned it was about a talking teddy bear whipping its owner into shape. Sounded like the kind of quirky idea I’d love. But there was nothing to say Tricia could pull it off!

Well, no sugar-lies are needed here. I can say, in all honesty, that I loved every single bit of this book. In fact, I will go so far as to say this is a truly special kind of novel. There is such an innocence in the prose, in the humour, in the characters, that’s it’s very difficult not to be pulled straight in. Humour is a tough thing to convey well in prose, being such a subjective thing, but Tricia pulls it off incredibly well. Mostly because the humour springs from the characters, especially the lead, Robert Handle, whose ineptitude at life creates much of the humour. Life is funnier than people generally realise; we do such silly things on a daily basis, without even considering what it is we do, and why. The sheer silliness of life is not lost on Tricia, and she indulges in it swiftly. Any person who still lives with mummy well into their forties is, without doubt, a tragic and often pathetic figure. Sometimes there are good reasons behind such a situation, and Rob’s own reasons add a very sad dimension to his life. His father was killed when he was eighteen, and as a result two people were left behind, so caught up in their own grief that they were unable to help each other. Rob turned in on himself and shut the world out totally, barely venturing out of his bedroom unless forced into it. His mother shut herself down in a different way, internalising her pain, masking it in anger.

I think what makes this book so special is the clever way the humour and the tragedy is merged together to create a wonderful study of loss. It’s a very British thing to cope through humour, and even when we reach the emotional climax the humour is still evident. It’s not thrown in your face, it’s just there, a natural extension of the characters and situations. The story is truly believable; it carries at its heart an honesty that is compelling. Even though, on the one hand you have a tale about a teddy bear that discovers its voice and guides its owner into sorting out his life, on the other you have the very world in which Robert inhabits, the one of disastrous encounters with people previously only known online, the failed first romantic relationships, the first real job and discovering a hitherto unknown talent for being able to say the right thing. Everything about this story just feels real, and you could believe it happened to someone you know.

The end is also powerful, as we get to the heart of the problem and the truth of Paddytum is revealed. I had a few theories throughout the book, and worked out the correct explanation moments before the story revealed it. It’s a conclusion handled with deftness and immense skill, so much so in fact that I found myself slowing down towards the end as I did not wish the book to finish. But, all good things must end eventually, and Paddytum is no exception. Fortunately, it ends with a brilliant final scene, and the last line is a scorcher.

More please, Tricia!

Paddytum is published by Hirst Publishing, at £7.99.  You can purchase a copy directly from Hirst, or any good book stockists, including Waterstones and Borders.

http://www.hirstpublishing.com/Tricia_Heighway_-_Paddytum/p384445_1157030.aspx

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