Dot writes: sometimes when you get sucked in to a book, surfacing from it you feel strange and woozy and not properly connected to the world. I’m feeling like that right now after finishing Theo by Ed Taylor. The style of the book accentuates the feeling. It gives a child’s view of a chaotic adult world and the prose reflects a mind not wholly understanding what it sees, overstimulated and often confused. There are no quotation marks so it’s sometimes hard to tell where the speeches start and stop; Theo always seems to be running (he’s a ten-year-old boy) and switching between thoughts and impulses; paragraphs are often breathless, short clauses joined with ands. Everything runs into everything else in a blur of impressions that Theo is trying to comprehend.
Sometimes, also, books hurt. Theo is the story of a boy who’s the son of a rock star, Adrian, a guitarist in a hugely successful band at the start of the 1980s (The Rolling Stones are an obvious possible model, given Adrian’s difficult relationship with his creative partner, the band’s singer Roger). The adults around him are drugged-up, frequently drunk, affectionate but neglectful. His parents come and go from tours, court-cases and clinics. His main carers are his grandfather and a minder called Colin, who are almost as unreliable and useless as everyone else. Regular meals and laundry are things these people are utterly unable to manage. Theo knows what the ‘sex noise’ is like and hears it rather often; he observes that adults always lie to him. And I can’t help reading this as a mother and feeling terrible for the awful upbringing this poor kid is getting, exposed to things he can’t cope with, never paid any real attention. Early in the book he gets concussion and nobody really notices (it doesn’t seem to have permanent ill-effects). Particularly in the early stages I was finding this book very upsetting – even as I couldn’t stop reading and ironically ignored my own kids as I feverishly tore through it.
I read this book on the strength of a review by Tom Cox (he of @MYSADCAT fame). It’s a much better and more thorough review than this one. Here I just want to say – this book absorbed and harrowed me, and now I feel like I’ve come up from deep water. If Tom Cox recommends any more novels I’ll want to read those too.