It’s a real pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for This Much Huxley Knows by Gail Aldwin, and sharing my review. Due for publication on 8th July by Black Rose Writing, it’s now available for preorder via Amazon in the UK and US (paperback and kindle – free via Kindle Unlimited), and through Barnes and Noble, HiveUK, and Book Depository. My thanks to the author for the invitation, and for my advance reading e-copy.
The very first time that Gail joined me here as my guest, it was in celebration of her short fiction collection, Paisley Shirt, back in 2018: you’ll find my review here, together with our interview. I was then delighted to read and review her debut novel, The String Games, published in May 2019 (available direct from Victorina Press, via Amazon or by order from your favourite bookshop). I was interested to see how the emotional impact of her beautifully crafted words would translate into the longer form, and the answer was “superbly”: it was an authentic and moving coming of age story, a wonderful portrayal of the impact of grief, loss and guilt, and an immensely engaging and well-told story (you’ll find my review here).
Her next book was something of a departure – you might have seen my post about her children’s book Pandemonium (you’ll find it again here) – but I was really delighted to see that her new book was once more aimed at an adult audience, albeit through the voice and viewpoint of a child…
I’m seven years old and I’ve never had a best mate. Trouble is, no one gets my jokes. And Breaks-it isn’t helping. Ha! You get it, don’t you? Brexit means everyone’s falling out and breaking up.
Huxley is growing up in the suburbs of London at a time of community tensions. To make matters worse, a gang of youths is targeting isolated residents. When Leonard, an elderly newcomer chats with Huxley, his parents are suspicious. But Huxley is lonely and thinks Leonard is too. Can they become friends?
Funny and compassionate, this contemporary novel for adults explores issues of belonging, friendship and what it means to trust.
This lovely book is subtitled “A story of innocence, misunderstandings, and acceptance” – and that, I think, is a quite perfect summing up of its impact, told in the clear and consistent voice of seven year old Huxley.
In many ways, he’s very typical of every child of that age – enjoying a bit of rough and tumble, loudly asking embarrassing questions (like “when can I have a little sister?” – he’d love not to be an “only” any more). And he’s sometimes a rather “lonely only” – his friend Ben is only his friend outside school, because he likes football and Huxley most definitely doesn’t, and he’s a little too friendly with bully Zac. When he’s there, Huxley rather prefers to hang around with girls, especially Samira – who he knows comes from another country, but she’s kind and friendly and he really doesn’t mind.
And because he’s a little lonely himself, he’s able to recognise it in others – and when he meets disabled Leonard in the park, on his electric scooter with its neoprene grips, and the bar of chocolate in his front basket, he knows he’s found a friend. Leonard even appreciates his quirky sense of humour, as he explores language and plays with words (‘Breaks-it” and “exit-size” are smiled at by everyone – the overheard “lip-bee-dough” a little less so). But the adults say he can’t be friends with Leonard any more – Huxley’s oblivious of the dark reasons why, and is filled with a sense of injustice.
Throughout the book, we see life through Huxley’s eyes – and it really is exceptional writing, capturing his wisdom and clear sightedness, the way he’s unsettled by things he doesn’t understand, his joy in the small things and the special moments. In many ways, he sees what adults can’t – but remains oblivious to life’s darker undercurrents that build throughout. As the reader, we see the racism, the suspicions around Leonard, the prejudice, the bullying, the edges of violence – while Huxley only knows that “picking-on” is something very wrong indeed.
He’s such an endearing child – he’d won my heart in the first few pages, and I only loved him more as the story progressed. One of my very favourite moments in the book is his triumph on the monkey bars at school, when the class are cheering and his achievement even earns him a handshake from his nemesis Zac – his joy and pride, wanting the moment to last forever, made me ache inside for this very special child.
The whole book is uplifting, funny, joyful, heartwarming, exceptionally poignant, and I just loved seeing life for a while through the eyes of a child with his refreshingly simpler perspective on right and wrong. Wonderful writing, and this is a book I’d thoroughly recommend to all.
‘Read this and feel young again’ – Joe Siple, author of The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride
‘Moving and ultimately upbeat’ – Christopher Wakling, author of What I Did
‘A joyous novel with the wonderfully exuberant character of Huxley’ – Sara Gethin, author of Not Thomas
About the author
Novelist, poet and scriptwriter, Gail Aldwin’s debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Gail loves to appear at national and international literary and fringe festivals. Prior to Covid-19, she volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second largest refugee settlement in the world. When she’s not gallivanting around, Gail writes at her home overlooking water meadows in Dorset.