Mr. Toppitby Charles Elton
When Arthur Hayman, an unsuccessful screenwriter turned children’s book author, is accidentally hit by a cement truck in London, his dying moments are spent with a passing American tourist, Laurie Clow, who is fated to bring posthumous fame to his obscure series, The Hayseed Chronicles, and the enigmatic and sinister Mr. Toppit who is at the center of the books. While Arthur doesn’t live to reap the benefits of his books’ success, his legacy falls to his widow, Martha, and their children—the fragile Rachel, and Luke, reluctantly immortalized as the fictional Luke Hayseed, hero of his father’s books. But others want their share of the Hayseed phenomenon, particularly Laurie, who has a mysterious agenda of her own that changes all of their lives as Martha, Rachel, and Luke begin to crumble under the heavy burden of their inheritance.
Spanning several decades, from the heyday of the postwar British film industry to today’s cutthroat world of show business in Los Angeles, Mr. Toppit is a riveting debut novel that captures an extraordinary family and their tragic brush with fame to wonderfully funny and painful effect.
“Elton’s careful handling of a complex and thickly populated plot bears some resemblance to that of Jonathan Coe, with whom Elton shares a darkly humorous perspective on English life.”—Boston Globe
“Elton’s wry commentary on the business of iconography throws a deftly aimed wrench at the publicity machine that can be found beneath many of our most cherished cultural totems.”—Vogue.com
“Mr. Toppit doesn't seem to be intended as a cautionary tale...but Elton brilliantly presents the betrayal, the horror, of being used.”—New York Times Book Review
“A cultural satire encompassing a Harry Potter-esque literary empire, a Royal Tenenbaums-style dysfunctional family and an Oprah-type media figure, the book is both funny and sad.”—Newsday
“Told in several voices and all of them are high-pitched, Mr. Toppit is a high-jinks combination of Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, Madeline, The Secret Garden, The Simpsons and Arrested Development.”—Los Angeles Times
“Brutally comic… a strong debut, darkly funny and richly told, with often surprisingly penetrative emotional moments.”—Associated Press
“Darkly comic… sophisticated and witty… Mr. Toppit is great fun.”—Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“Wonderfully written…It’s a nicely done coming-of-age story with some dark surprises and an entertaining level of tension.”—Bookreporter.com
“In this excellent debut, Elton tells the story of a complicated family stretched to its limits by sudden fame and unexpected acquaintances…Elton skillfully weaves together postwar England and a terrifyingly modern L.A., as well as the hopes and disappointments of frustrated mothers, neglected children, and clandestine lovers. While beautifully written and graced with a unique story line, it is Elton's characters who drive the novel and give it a depth uncommon in debuts.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This accomplished first novel chronicles the damaging effect of stratospheric fame on the lives of those who inherit it. Harry Potter enthusiasts will especially be drawn to it.”—Library Journal
“Skillfully written and oddly haunting…” —Kirkus Reviews
“Mr. Toppit is a darkly comic, thoroughly engaging narrative about a successful writer and the complicated legacy he leaves to his wife and children, and to the world at large. Charles Elton's witty and unsettling debut novel explores the emotional turmoil that results when a family's private history gets transformed into public myth.” —Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher
“This is a brilliant novel—very funny, very sad and wickedly clever. I wish I had written it.” —Zoë Heller, The Believers
“Dark, hilarious and cruelly honest, Mr. Toppit exposes some uncomfortable truths about the English and American mindsets, and the effect of celebrity on private lives. A truly smashing debut novel.” —Christopher Fowler, author of the Bryant & May books
"One hot mess of a family romance....An engrossing, moving, and perceptive read." —The Times (UK)
"Mr. Toppit is part Royal Tenenbaums-style saga of a dysfunctional family...part coming-of-age tale...and part satire on the iniquities of celebrity and hype." —The Observer
"A chillingly mingled hit of love, need, and dread." —The Independent
"This is an extraordinary debut, not only for its confident storytelling but for its nerdish familiarity with such an eclectic range of subjects." —Sunday Times
In this debut novel by British TV producer Elton, a peculiar American turns a series of English children's books into international bestsellers, with bad results for the author's family.
Mr. Toppit is the dark, unseen force plaguing Luke, the boy hero of The Hayseed Chronicles, which became wildly popular only after author Arthur Hayman was killed in a London traffic accident. Arthur's son Luke resents "my childhood being ransacked," and his sister Rachel is even more upset about being left out; she's a mentally unstable drug addict. We learn this in the opening pages, then the scene shifts to 1981, when tourist Laurie Clow witnesses Arthur's accident and hears his dying words. The very strange Laurie immediately feels an intense personal bond with Arthur; it's clear little good can come of her worming her way into the shell-shocked household of Luke, Rachel and their mother Martha (who's got plenty of back story to feel guilty about). The novel is more than half over when Laurie begins reading The Hayseed Chronicles on a local California radio show; in no time, she's a celebrity, the books are being published in America and the Haymans are rich. Part Two mostly chronicles a disastrous summer five years later, when first Luke and then Rachel come to stay with Laurie in California. A final scene in 1995 follows Rachel into the woods near the Haymans' home in Dorset, looking for Mr. Toppit. Elton shifts among (too) many points of view, and we never understand why Rachel and Laurie are so damaged, or why Luke has managed to remain relatively sane and decent. That said, he's created some genuinely creepy characters, Laurie in particular, and he has some wicked fun with the entertainment industries.
Skillfully written and oddly haunting: Elton may have even better novels in his future.
- Other Press, LLC
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Read an Excerpt
Although it was only some years after his death that my father was elected to the sainthood of children’s authors, the sales of the books had always been steady, though modest, and the name of Luke Hayseed not unknown among more progressive parents, who felt their children should not be shielded from the
cruelties and uncertainties of life—the very cruelties and uncertainties that were the stock-in-trade of the Hayseed books. But what is undeniable is that I was not, at that time, accosted by complete strangers in restaurants or pinned up against walls during cocktail parties by people telling me how I had ruined their childhood or—much, much worse—how I had been an inspiration to them.
Meet the Author
Charles Elton worked as a designer and editor in publishing before becoming a director of the Curtis Brown literary agency. Since 1991 he has worked in television and for the past ten years has been the executive producer in drama at ITV. Among his productions are the Oscar-nominated short Syrup, The Railway Children, Andrew Davies’s adaptation of Northanger Abbey, and the recent series Time of Your Life.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Dark and confusing, Mr. Toppit felt like a carnival fun house ride gone awry. Its the story of the Luke Hayman and the Hayseed Chronicles. Luke's father, Arthur, writes the Hayseed Chronicles which are published and languish in obscurity for many years. When Arthur dies a young American woman becomes mysteriously involved with the family, eventually rocketing the Hayseed Chronicles into widespread fame. None of the family, Luke, his sister Rachel, or his mother handles the new found fame well and as the book comes to a close disaster seems inevitable. The plot of Mr. Toppit is an interesting and unique idea. It largely deals with the feelings of Luke who has to live with his childhood being highly fictionalized and then read by millions. Unfortunately the execution left me cold. I never understood the motivation or actions of any of the characters and was often confused about even simple plot details. The overall tone is of doom and impending disaster which just didn't appeal to me. I listened to the audio version of Mr. Toppit, read by Simon Vance. While I generally like Simon Vance's readings, it is hard to enjoy the narrator if the content is lacking.
What a treat - an estimable debut novel read by multi-award winning narrator SimonVance! His voice is, as always, resonant, compelling, and he clearly distinguishes each character much to the delight of listeners. Vance must have enjoyed reading MR. TOPPIT as we certainly enjoyed his narration of this funny, touching and totally original story. Arthur Hayman is an obscure screen writer who meets an untimely end when he's run over by a concrete truck. In addition to his screen work which has received scant notice, he has penned a series of children's books. Now sadly unbeknownst to him that series has enjoyed enormous success, while at the same time becoming a burden to his offspring. Son Luke has been depicted as Luke Hayseed in his father's books and is portrayed by a child actor in a top-of-the-charts television series. Thus, Luke is made the butt of many jokes, and is miserable about all of this. Sister Rachel is also unhappy - not because of any notoriety her father's work has brought to her but just the opposite - she was never mentioned in his books. Now, add to the Hayman family's distress the greed of the publishing and film worlds, embodied by one Laurie Clow who has made a global success of "The Hayseed Chronicles." That's grist for some excellent satire plus a reminder that all that glitters isn't gold. Enjoy - Gail Cooke