Tom Houghton (Todd Alexander, S&S)
Tom Houghton is a classic first-person coming-of-age novel about a boy with huge dreams. 1986: 12-year-old Tom is a lonely and introverted child. He’s obsessed with Hollywood movie stars, and when he reads about his namesake in a Katharine Hepburn biography, he takes this as a sign—he’s bound for greatness. Except that he lives in western Sydney, and to reveal his ambition is like painting a target on his back. Fast-forward three decades, and Tom a small-time stage actor, homosexual, barely functioning alcoholic. He lurches from disaster to disaster, always promising to do better, but becoming more like his unstable mother every day. He’s a mess, and yet there’s something tender about him. He’s prickly, insecure, arrogant, desperately sad, and compelling. In parallel narratives, the story tracks Tom toward twin crises that will forever change the boy and the man. Young Tom’s voice is as striking as that of Jasper Jones, and the novel is as tragic, confronting, hilarious and utterly true as the best of Matt Nable and Christos Tsiolkas. It lays bare how cruelly we treat people who are different (and how cruelly they sometimes treat themselves), and it’s one of the finest Australian novels I’ve read this year.
Lachlan Jobbins is a freelance editor. He worked with Todd Alexander as a bookseller in the late 1990s