Why we love it: The more we get to know Tom Houghton, the more we like him, even in spite of his faults. Cleverly crafted and with characters that walk straight off the page, Todd Alexander’s second novel is a masterpiece of self discovery.
Tom Houghton grows up in the western suburbs of Sydney, the only child of a single mother who works bar shifts to make ends meet. They live with his grandfather who often looks after him, but never really understands the little boy who is obsessed with his collection of silver screen memorabilia. Highly intelligent and confused about his sexuality, Tom becomes the prime target for bullying at his school. He retreats into a fantasy world of old Hollywood, inspired by his mother naming him after Katharine Hepburn’s beloved brother. But who really is Tom Houghton?
As an adult, his only close relationships are his best friend Hanna and his daughter Lexi. His relationship with his mother Lana is a complex one, and while it is at times touching and loving, she’s not interested in the details of his life as she spirals into alcoholism and depression. Other actors and lovers make cameo appearances in his life but Tom continues to have trouble forging genuine relationships.
The story shifts seamlessly between the past and present, 12-year-old Tom’s narrative vying for the spotlight beside the present day actor Tom, aged 40. Faced with the chance to act in a prestigious Scottish festival, Tom must try to repair his broken relationships, especially with daughter Lexi, and come to terms with his bad behaviour and drinking.
The true charm in this novel lies in Todd Alexander’s narrative style. By keeping 12-year-old Tom’s outlook free of his 40-year-old hindsight, we are able to see what has turned him into the bitter sometime diva he becomes. While the adult Tom is far less likeable than his younger self, by the end of the novel we have a greater understanding of his life, and we cheer him on as he takes a step towards a brighter future, one that he ultimately deserves. This is a sad, funny and touching coming-of-age story that will resonate with many of us.
Not surprisingly there has already been loud praise for Tom Houghton. Celebrated filmmaker and author of The Lost Swimmer, Ann Turner said, “There’s enormous humanity and skill in the writing and the characters spring off the page. It reminded me of the work of Alan Hollinghurst and Armistead Maupin, but with a fresh originality that is Todd Alexander.”
Todd Alexander is the author of 11 books. He started his career as a bookseller, before working at eBay. He is also the co-owner, with partner Jeff, of Belford Block Eight, a boutique vineyard and olive grove that offers luxury accommodation. The winery was awarded 4.5 stars by legendary wine critic James Halliday. Tom Houghton is his second novel.‘A wonderful, touching coming-of-age novel that is raw, confronting and tender at the same time.’ Cheryl Akle Better Reading ‘As tragic, confronting, hilarious and utterly true as the best of Matt Nable and Christos Tsiolkas.’ Books and Publishing ‘Written with enormous humanity and skill, and the characters spring off the page.’ Ann Turner, author of The Lost Swimmer.