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Mr. Toppit Paperback – November 9, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Letter to Readers from Charles Elton

Charles Elton worked as a designer and editor in publishing before becoming a literary agent. Since 1991 he has worked in television and for the past ten years has been the executive producer in drama at ITV. Among his productions are the Oscar-nominated short Syrup, The Railway Children, Andrew Davies’s adaptation of Northanger Abbey, and the recent series Time of Your Life, all produced in association with WGBH Boston's Masterpiece Theater.

Dear Reader,

Fifteen years ago I began writing Mr. Toppit when I was a literary agent representing the estate of A.A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh. I learned the story of Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, who grew to hate the fame his father's books brought him. To reshape that idea in a modern context was the single idea that was the genesis of my novel.

During the years I spent writing, another phenomenon occurred in the world of children's book publishing that made Winnie-the-Pooh's fame seem parochial: Harry Potter. Suddenly, my idea of a modern series of children's stories that take over the world did not seem so far-fetched. What had originally been conceived as a small story about my boy hero, Luke Hayman, suddenly made famous by his dead father's books widened into both an examination of the mechanics of fame and a strange journey towards a literary tipping point that has devastating consequences for the characters in my book.

Mr. Toppit was published by Viking/Penguin in England last year and has been very successful and received an enormous amount of media interest, helped by being one of the Richard and Judy Summer Reads (the UK equivalent of the Oprah Book Club). It is being published in the US by Other Press and I wanted to explain why this means so much to me.

Although I only had the sketchiest notion of where Mr. Toppit was going to go when I started writing it, the one thing I was certain of was that the children’s books inside my novel would first become famous in America. I began to follow the story of a radio presenter named Laurie Clow, from her sad childhood in Los Alamos to her dysfunctional life in Modesto, California, and the trip she makes to England where she collides with Luke and his family and becomes the catalyst that changes all of their lives. What happens in America is crucial to the plot of my book, and its publication completes the strange circle that started 15 years ago as I began writing.

I really hope you like the book and thank you in advance for all your support.


Charles Elton

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this excellent debut, Elton tells the story of a complicated family stretched to its limits by sudden fame and unexpected acquaintances. When we first meet Luke Hayman and his troubled sister, Rachel, they are dealing with the emotional fallout of living their lives in the public eye as the children of Arthur Hayman, posthumously famous author of a universally beloved series of British children's books. (It was only after Arthur was struck and killed by a cement truck that the books took off.) With increasing fame and money, Luke--the obvious inspiration for Arthur's protagonist, Luke Hayseed--struggles to come to terms with his notoriety and keep together his rapidly deteriorating family. Elton skillfully weaves together postwar England and a terrifyingly modern L.A., as well as the hopes and disappointments of frustrated mothers, neglected children, and clandestine lovers. While beautifully written and graced with a unique story line, it is Elton's characters who drive the novel and give it a depth uncommon in debuts.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; 1 edition (November 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590513908
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590513903
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,446,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Green VINE VOICE on December 18, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I had high hopes for Charles Elton's "Mr. Toppit," but, alas, those hopes were not realized. Oh, the book begins moderately well, and, yes, I stayed with the story to within pages of the end of the book, but I didn't finish. First, the book ended up violating what for me is essential to reading and enjoying a novel...there was just no one I cared about, no one I really enjoyed spending time with. When an unfortunate and eventually fatal accident causes the paths of British writer Arthur Hayman and American Laurie Clow to cross, I thought, ah, we're going to have something very interesting come of this; and for a while I had hopes, as I went on to meet Arthur's family, his wife Martha and his children Luke and Rachel. If there is some very good reason for Rachel's being a damaged soul, I don't think that reason is well explored. There is also mention made through the book and at story's end of a first and now deceased child, Jordan, but I don't feel Jordan's short life and the effect that loss had on the parents is at all well thought out. In short, read the book if you're inclined. There might have been a better book here, but, as is, it's a very frustrating book to make one's way through; and relationships between characters are often left to the reader to determine, without their having been enough or any information given to make those connections. In short, the book is a disappointment. Now onto another of my Amazon Vine choices.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tracy L. VINE VOICE on December 14, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Very late in MR TOPPIT, Luke Hayman says about his father Arthur "This was a man who had nothing to atone for, the one person with true dignity in this whole story...", and that is definitely true. Unfortunately, Arthur dies very early on in the book, and it's his death that sets the story in motion. He really is the only character with any dignity. There is just not a lot to like about any of the other characters in this book, and that is intentional.

Charles Elton has written a book with an interesting premise. A series of "Harry Potter" type books called the "Hayseed Chronicles" which become a phenomenal success after the death of its author, Arthur Hayman. The books feature a young boy, Luke Hayseed, a character named after Arthur's son Luke. It's Luke (the son) who narrates most of MR. TOPPIT (who is the sinister never-seen character in the Hayseed books.) It's through Luke that we learn a deal about the other characters, his aloof mother Martha, troubled older sister Rachel, and Laurie Clow, a lonely American tourist who was with Arthur at the end.

One of the things I liked about this book is the humor, or should I say humour. Elton, a Brit, does a very good job of intermingling British and American humor in this story. There were quite a few laugh out loud moments. But it is the characters that make this story. They truly are sad, desperate people and Elton does a great job defining them.

This is a book that is probably not for everybody, but if you like your humor dark, this may be one for you.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By bert1761 VINE VOICE on October 2, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was very eager to read this novel. The book description promised a fascinating premise and the enthusiastic blurb by authors I greatly admire and enjoy, including Tom Perrotta and Zoe Heller, added to my enthusiasm. And the book started off by delivering on its promise. The writing was sharp -- witty when appropriate and clear-eyed in its depiction of the tragic nature of various characters and situations.

But then... it all fell apart. Too many characters were introduced, the narrative jumped all over the place, the plot started to sag and the writing started to drag, the characters were turned into caricatures, and the conclusion was rushed. Ultimately, I failed to care about the characters or believe in their plight.

I think the author definitely has potential, but he definitely needs to pare down his "ideas." "Mr. Toppit" would have been far more successful if Mr. Elton had limited his novel to the effects of unexpected and unwanted fame on the suddenly famous, particularly when they are fragile before the fame arrives. By making several of the characters over-the-top villains (and adding in too many unnecessary characters), he diminished to essentially nothing the impact of what could have been a powerful and moving story.

Potential readers of this novel would be better served spending their time with the novels of the authors who praise this book than by reading the book itself.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 14, 2011
Format: Paperback
Arthur Hayman is an obscure screen writer who meets an untimely end when he's run over by a concrete truck. In addition to his screen work which has received scant notice, he has penned a series of children's books. Now sadly unbeknownst to him that series has enjoyed enormous success, while at the same time becoming a burden to his offspring.

Son Luke has been depicted as Luke Hayseed in his father's books and is portrayed by a child actor in a top-of-the-charts television series. Thus, Luke is made the butt of many jokes, and is miserable about all of this. Sister Rachel is also unhappy - not because of any notoriety her father's work has brought to her but just the opposite - she was never mentioned in his books.

Now, add to the Hayman family's distress the greed of the publishing and film worlds, embodied by one Laurie Clow who has made a global success of "The Hayseed Chronicles." That's grist for some excellent satire plus a reminder that all that glitters isn't gold.


- Gail Cooke
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