I know I quite often say I loved this book or that, but I really, really loved Calling Major Tom by David M. Barnett. It’s fresh and funny and poignant, and unusual.
I guess it was that title that first caught my eye. I’m an ISS spotter, a Commander Chris Hadfield follower, an #Astronauts watcher, and a David Bowie admirer. So a title like Calling Major Tom was already ticking a lot of my personal boxes.
It opens quite darkly, I suppose, with a flashback to 1978 and young Thomas Major going to the cinema to see “Star Wars” with his dad who promptly leaves him on his own as he goes off on “an errand”. You can feel poor Tom’s loneliness, the sense of abandonment.
Then the action leaps forward to present day, and Thomas is alone again, in a space capsule bound for Mars, enjoying the solitude because it’s like his shed and he gets peace to do his crossword….
That’s when the reader begins to realise this is no ordinary sci-fi fantasy and turns the page to find out quite how Thomas Major has become Major Tom…
But first, new chapter, new viewpoint: Gladys, sitting not all alone in her tin can but by her fireside in her pink quilted dressing gown, with two kids firing questions at her about clean shirts and PE kit.
She’s their gran, and how they come to be in her care, and our realisation that she has dementia, should be sad but it’s funny and quirky and warm.
While this is at its heart a story about family, David M. Barnett has resisted any inclination to make it slushy or sentimental. Thomas’s complex story, Gran’s domestic situation, the challenges facing grandkids James and Ellie, are all tackled head on. And yet it’s a genuinely and naturally amusing book.
There aren’t many books that I finish with a huge sigh of satisfaction and a smile on my face, but this was one. Loved it.
David M. Barnett has written a gripping short story exclusively for the Friend, for Special 147, on sale Wednesday this week, Oct 4.
If you want to read Calling Major Tom it’s on sale right now, published by Trapeze paperback original and e-book, £7.99.
We also have four copies to be won over on our competitions page!