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Tom Bedlam: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

George Hagen
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $11.84
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Born in a shabby tenement in Victorian London, young Tom Bedlam is employed stoking the furnaces in a massive porcelain factory; he is son to a father he has never met, and sibling to a baby who vanished at birth. But in spite of these disadvantages, he is a positive spirit, cunning in his pursuit of love, unflinchingly loyal to his friends, and possessed of a deep, passionate soul. More than anything, he wishes to bring the loose strands of his estranged family together.

After Tom’s mother dies, a mysterious family benefactor appears who offers to pay for the boy’s education. For a factory urchin this is good luck indeed, and Tom is whisked away to an exclusive private boarding school called Hammer Hall. The school is a crucible of variously privileged, predatory, meek, and noble boys, and although Tom gathers crucial clues there about his lost brother, he finds himself caught between warring forces and makes a Faustian pact that will haunt his adult life.

As Tom becomes a man, his quest assumes grander proportions, a search for his lost innocence but an attempt to create the family he dreamed of in childhood. His experiences will challenge his decency and force him to weigh his character against the pitfalls of loyalty, patriotism, love, and familial duty.

Tom Bedlam shows how small deeds in childhood can resonate for a lifetime, and how the bonds of family ultimately prevail against the devastating march of progress and human folly. Most of all, it is a journey with a good friend. Charming, whimsical, passionate, and funny–there’s no better companion than Tom Bedlam.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hagen (The Laments) rolls out the entertaining epic tale of the personable protagonist Tom Bedlam, beginning in Victorian London and ending in post-WWI South Africa. Along the way, Tom survives a rowdy boarding school, studies medicine in Scotland (where he changes his name to the more proper-sounding Tom Chapel), elopes to South Africa with his professor's daughter and fathers three daughters and a son. Tom is recruited as a battlefield surgeon during the Boer War, but the novel slows dramatically once the war is over and he settles with his family in the Johannesburg suburbs. His steady life as a surgeon and doting father dominates the story until WWI draws pacifist Tom back to London on urgent business. Tom's trip to wartime England satisfyingly rekindles the story's momentum, aided by plot twists that require the suspension of disbelief. Realistic period detail adds texture to the humor that frequently counters Tom's personal tragedies and sometimes dour outlook. Hagen's prose is surefooted, regardless of which continent, ocean or war his characters encounter. A few lulls pockmark this hefty book, but Tom is a sturdy protagonist and a magnificent relic from a world far gone. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Dickensian in scope and spirit, this novel chronicles the life and times of the aptly named title character. Born poor in Victorian London, young Tom struggles to better himself. Abandoned by his actor father, he and his insanely Christian mother eke out a meager living in a Vauxhall porcelain factory. When his father reappears on the scene and he accidentally learns of the existence of an older brother, Tom devotes the rest of his life to the ever-elusive goal of finding his missing sibling and becoming the perfect husband and father. Spread over the course of 50 years, shot through with humor, and populated with a cast of eccentric charmers, Tom's personal odyssey reflects the dramatic alterations of both an individual and a society in flux. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 730 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (March 25, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,439,962 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rousing Dickensian tale June 27, 2007
Dickens fans will feel immediately at home in Hagen's Victorian London among a cast of colorful characters in a story rife with fateful coincidence, poverty, riches and the corruption power can bring.

Tom Bedlam is a boy to root for, an urchin who toils alongside his bafflingly saintly mother in a smoke-and-dust-belching porcelain factory run by a grasping man who gives Mrs. Bedlam a pair of his wife's cast-off shoes and then docks her pay for them.

At nine Tom has never met his father and, given his mother's firm belief that "if you can't speak pleasantly about a person, it's best to say nothing at all," knows nothing about the man either. Then one day he hears an unfamiliar step on the tenement stair. (Tom "identified the footsteps of his neighbors in the same way a country boy quickly distinguishes the call of a wren from that of a curlew.")

A handsome, rakish actor, Tom's father quickly tricks Tom into giving up the location of his mother's hard-won savings - money for the boy's education - and once again disappears into the London streets.

Something goes out of Emily Bedlam after that and though she lives on until Tom is half grown, cracks appear in her saintly demeanor. On her deathbed she reveals the existence of Tom's missing, presumed dead, elder brother, and also directs Tom to reconcile with her father, a wealthy brewer who disowned her when she married William Bedlam.

In this way Tom is rescued from the bowels of the factory. After a tearful, parting from the cheerful, chaotic Limpkin family - tenement neighbors with too many children - Tom goes to boarding school, where a ruthless pecking order holds sway and Tom makes a friend - a new, possibly insane boy who refuses to conform.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Picaresque December 11, 2007
This book grabbed me from the first sentence: "It is quite possible that Emily Bedlam was simply a very good woman, but to her son, Tom, she appeared insane." The novel follows Tom's career - his life, loves, and family - from late-Victorian England though boarding school to Scotland, Boer South Africa, and the adventures of his daughters and son in WW I England and France.

It is the story of one man's (Tom's) journey, from child to parent. In plot, it owes much to Victorian conventions of coincidence, lost relatives, and hidden connections. In diction and sensibility, though, it is closer to the picaresque novel of the 18th century. It is most notable, however, for what it is not: there is no postmodern irony here, just a 21st-century entertainment that is told by a superbly gifted author who writes like a cross between Dickens and Fielding. Highly recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit much...and yet not nearly enough. February 11, 2009
Recently I've adopted as part of my personal philosophy this small notion: 'Every situation has its ceiling.'

That is, unless you drastically change some of its variables, every situation -every relationship, every endeavour, every STORY- can only rise so high.

Witness 'Tom Bedlam'.

There should be no doubt as to the 'Dickensian' intents of this novel. (Whereas Hagen's début was more Irving-esque) But whatever his goals -and only the author can say what these were- 'Bedlam' does not achieve anything close to what to this reader believes was possible. But then, were that to have happened, some pretty substantive elements would have to have changed.

There were times when I felt that Hagen was writing with one hand tied behind his back, the result was that...well...hindered. It was all there, the characters, the scope, the setting...and yet for whatever reason, he flubbed the effort.

It is, at various points, a delight to read. But mostly it is 'thin'. Entirely lacking of substance. It feels 'unfinished'. Or perhaps, though I don't believe this, it was beyond his abilities. (I prefer to believe his editor was not sufficiently diligent. Or demanding)

For those fans of the genre, it's an entertaining enough distraction. But I still believe that Mr. Hagen's best work is yet to come.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Coincidence, coincidence October 5, 2007
The first part of this novel was a good description of poverty in late Victorian London, England. It has a real sense of place and time. I was reminded a bit of A.J. Cronin.

We follow the life of Tom Bedlam in what the blurb writers usually describe as a "sweeping family saga." Bit formulaic. Then, the coincidences start to appear. Character after character from Tom's past turn up in his later life. Just too many of them to be credible.
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