Tom Houghton

Todd Alexander

Tom Houghton
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Tom Houghton

Todd Alexander

His whole life has been a fantasy.

Who is Tom Houghton?

As a boy growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, Tom Houghton escapes the harshness of the schoolyard by cocooning himself in the cinema of the golden age of Hollywood.

When he discovers that his favourite actress, Katharine Hepburn, modelled herself on her brother, Thomas Houghton Hepburn, Tom sinks deeper into his fantasy life. Determined to reveal his true identity to the world, Tom is propelled on a torturous path with disastrous consequences.

Almost thirty years later, Tom is offered an acting role at a festival in Scotland. With the rigours of his past finally catching up with him, fantasy and reality struggle for control and Tom finds himself questioning everything he thought he knew about himself.

Review

If you’re not familiar with the tragic death of actress Katharine Hepburn’s brother Tom Houghton Hepburn, or can’t visualise her in that amazing Walter Plunkett moth costume from the film Christopher Strong, I can almost guarantee you will look these things up while reading Tom Houghton. This story and image form the background to the tale of another Tom Houghton. This Tom, a forty-year-old actor in Sydney starring as Martha in a gender reversal production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, experiences flashbacks to his twelve-year-old self: a loner bullied at school, obsessed with films and movie stars and devoted to his mother. As the story progresses, the past and the present and fantasy and reality edge closer together to reveal a tale of tragedy, love, reinvention and acceptance.

This is a novel that comes into its own in the second half; it takes a little while to settle into a rhythm, but once it does, it becomes easy to be absorbed into Tom’s world – especially as a twelve year old. There are some wonderful characters and relationships explored in Tom Houghton: particularly between Tom and his mother Lana and her boyfriend Mal (easily my favourite character in the book). The school scenes also stand out for their realism and the breakdown in friendship between Tom and a fellow student is heartbreaking. This all moves towards an ending that while carrying a sense of hope, doesn’t shy away from the complexities of the relationships explored and raises just as many questions as answers (much like real life!). This frankness and honesty drives the book and I look forward to future work from the author.


Amanda Rayner works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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