Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Calling Major Tom by David M Barnett

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett ( ) author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and Don’t Look Down.

What We Thought: I started reading Calling Major Tom and after a couple of chapters almost put it aside to read at some other time. I didn't though, and I'm glad because it turned out to be one of the nicest books I've read this year. It's been described as 'heartwarming', 'life affirming', 'feel-good' and 'charming', and it's all of those things. It's also about loneliness and being a misfit.

Thomas Major, a grumpy scientist, manages to get himself appointed as the first man to go to Mars. The announcement is made the day David Bowie dies and, of course, the media instantly call him Major Tom. Thomas wants to go to Mars because he's had it with Earth and all its inhabitants. Having fallen out with his father, been manipulated by his mother and had nothing but failed relationships, he's happy - in a miserable sort of way - to leave the human race behind. On Mars, he'll build habitations and domes and get some crops established, ready for the first inhabitants who will arrive in ten or fifteen years. In the meantime, he will be blissfully on his own.

Sitting in his tincan far above the world, he refuses to engage in publicity stunts, read the manuals about spacewalks, or brush up on growing potatoes on Mars. He prefers instead to do his crossword puzzles and annoy the Head of the British Space Agency via the communications link. Until, that is, he encounters Gladys Ormerod. Gladys is a pensioner at the start of her dementia journey, who Thomas accidentally phones, and he is soon sucked into her problems. She is supposed to be looking after her grandchildren, James and Ellie, because their mum is dead and their dad is in gaol. However, the burden of care tends to fall on 15 year old Ellie.

As he becomes more and more drawn into the Ormerods' lives, Thomas relives his own experiences as a child and as a young man. He begins to understand things about himself and comes to various realisations.

Sad, funny, and filled with references to popular culture, Calling Major Tom is a little beauty.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Stories that make you laugh and maybe even cry a little.

Avoid if you dislike: Feel-good books that manipulate your emotions.

Ideal accompaniments: Bowie's Space Oddity on the turntable and a determination to keep on reading.

Genre: General Fiction

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