Again I seem to have gravitated towards a book about a dissatisfied curmudgeon whose attempt to isolate himself actually brings him closer to the beating heart of humanity.
Thomas’ guilt and disappointment are the threads that winds their way through this hilarious and heartwarming story of a rather unlikely British Astronaut on a preparatory mission to Mars.
He is an ordinary chap beset by parental disappointment, romantic failure and a tragic loss in childhood that proves the catalyst for his low opinion of the entirety of the planet Earth, so in a twist of fate so desperately unlikely that it may even whizz to the probable side of the spectrum, he is chosen and accepts a solitary and possibly suicidal trip to The Red Planet.
British Telephony being a bit on the dodgy side, even with satellite assistance he cold calls the elderly, slightly demented grandmother and matriarch of a working class family in Wigan when trying to reach his ex wife.
He is gradually drawn in. Daughter Ellie is trying to manage family life with one parent dead and her Dad in prison for a exceptionally badly executed robbery he had only agreed to do to try to solve his family money issues. Left ostensibly in the charge of his mother Gladys, it is unfortunate then that her dementia is worsening at a rate of knots so Ellie is carrying the weight of all their fates on her 15 year old shoulders.
This unexpected crashing into each other’s spheres proves cathartic, redemptive and restorative to all parties. The characters are fun , with Gladys being my favourite. She is nutty as a fruitcake, but her lucid moments nigh on genius, which is possibly where whizz kid James get’s his scientific acumen from.
This is a very clever story. David M.Barnett weaves pathos and comedy beautifully together and the pacing is excellent despite the ARC copy I had bleeding narrative timelines slightly. I enjoyed this in two huge gulps across two days and my commute was much the happier for it. the style was very easy to read, with the humour and warmth making up for the simplicity of the tale.
The inevitable David Bowie references are used to great effect and I defy anyone not to start singing one of two of his biggest hits whilst reading this book at some point or shedding a wistful and hopeful tear at the last page.