...It's a five and if I gave it less I'd be lying. Who would enjoy this? Almost anyone. It is a lovely blend of snide asides, romance, action, humour, and tragedy, and brings some intriguing characters to life on the page. ...
Tired of his class of 30 8-to-11 year-olds, our hero, Joe, ditches them for the life of a hobo. Successfully he manages to swing himself onto a train crossing the Tamar Bridge and then sets out to panhandle his way round Cornwall. Sadly, a practice from the turn of the twentieth century America doesn’t transfer so well to the post-millennial Cornwall. With the stars in his eyes, he’s moved on by security for encouraging seagulls, hides from railwaymen, and tries busking for children who’d rather keep their cash.
I love the tone of this book. He’s a modern day Don Quixote, absolutely entranced with the romance of it all and decidedly baffled when others aren’t. Surrounded by people getting on with modern day life, he rhapsodises about the silent film era and play his harmonica (to the accompaniment of “shutyergob” from the local long-suffering teenagers). It’s the type of book that gets reviewers fishing for words like ‘charming’ and ‘quaint’ and missing out the best parts of it – snide, sarcastic, and with a huge serving of dry wit throughout.
Joe Abshire is an entertaining narrator. The teacher’s constant exasperation with his pupils – who are enough to drive anyone to drink, if not to running away on trains – evokes more than a few chuckles and a few downright mean-spirited laughs. Given his class I can only say rather him than me. His teaching life is interwoven with his adventures on the train tracks, exploring the rails, the people he meets and the stories he hears. The hobo’s stories contained here are beautifully written, well into the realms of literary fiction.
There’s one part I wish had been broken up slightly more. The short life histories of the various hobos told to him are fascinating, but in one unbroken group I found them a bit heavy going. One note: in my opinion to get the best from this book, read it through straight. This is the rare book where spoilers will actual spoil and not help.
I was going to give this a four. When I got to the end, I couldn’t. It’s a five and if I gave it less I’d be lying. Who would enjoy this? Almost anyone.
Sometimes there’s a book that makes you really regret the newspaper column was submitted one day before you finished the book, and a book that means taking a break from reviewing to avoid other books suffering in comparison. This was both.5
Reviewed on: 2016-02-26
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