No doubt excited by former literary agent and television producer Charles Elton’s media connections, his publishers are hyping his debut novel, Mr Toppit, as ‘the book event of 2009’. Its title and cover suggest that it’s a book for children but it is, intriguingly, a novel about children’s books. Inspired by the story of A A Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, the reluctant hero of Winnie-the-Pooh, Mr Toppit is a tragicomic exploration of the warping effect of inherited celebrity on young lives. Luke Hayseed, the central character in Arthur Hayman’s books, The Hayseed Chronicles, is based on his own son, Luke. After Arthur dies in a freak accident his books become famous worldwide and Luke is catapulted into the public and media spotlight. The extraordinary posthumous popularity of Arthur’s books is largely thanks to the obsessive promotion of them by Laurie, a middle-aged American tourist, who comforts him as he lies dying, and insinuates herself into the lives of Luke, his mother Martha and his mentally fragile sister, Rachel. They all become enormously rich, but Luke suffers from too much attention, while Rachel, cruelly excluded from the books, suffers from too little.
The plot is just about plausible, but it has to be swallowed whole – particularly the unlikely role of the exploitative hanger-on, Laurie. We also have to take it as given that the legacy of fame is necessarily addiction and breakdown, since this truth is not revealed through