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)
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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 FlanaganCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved