Good Reading : October 2015
reading a biography of Kather ine Hepburn, Tom discovers that he and the actress’s deceased brother have the same name and share a birthday. This connection makes Tom even more obsessed with the Hollywood star, and he begins a metamorphosis as he is consumed by the allure of stardom and the idea of slipping into a different identity. ‘Katherine presented to the world what she thought they wanted of a Hollywood star. It’s a persona. There are parallels between Tom and Katherine in the way that they both invent personas for themselves. She does it for publicity. He does it because he wants to remove himself from his reality. It just seemed to work for me that her creation of the Hollywood star persona and the influence that her brother’s death had on her was a perfect parallel to what Tom was trying to achieve in his life.’ Running alongside the younger Tom’s struggle with school, sexuality and his mother’s fraught love life is the story of Tom as an adult on the cusp of his 40th birthday. Tom is starr ing in a gender-bending production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, playing Martha. The play is reasonably successful and Tom is making a name for himself in the indie theatre world of Sydney, even though he relies on a few glasses of pre-performance wine. But the drinking continues after each show, often spiralling into drunken chaos. A young cast member, Damon, is living with Tom, but we know almost immediately that the affair is doomed to fail. Tom’s romantic exploits with men consistently end with a nose-dive. His misguided attempts at relationships with women are equally disastrous, one having resulted in a daughter who he barely knows. ‘If you’ve never be accepted for who you truly are, then you come to be fearful of GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING OCTOBER 2015 36 UP CLOSE ‘Any kid who isn’t 100 per cent in line with their stereotyped gender role is really vulnerable.’ revealing that true person to the adult world. Tom’s adult relationships are very much like that; he’s very quick to dismiss them, and he’s very quick to repel people before they get too close. Because if he does reveal who he really is, and in the past that has only led to pain, disappointment and abandonment, then why would he do that? He presents a veneer to the world that keeps him safe.’ Todd quotes a line from a William Wordsworth poem: ‘The Child is the Father of the Man’. It’s a reference to how childhood directly influences an adult’s personality. It’s logical that your experiences growing up will influence your behaviour as an adult, but most people are oblivious to how significant an impact their childhood has on their adult pysche. Such is the genius of Tom Houghton. The child and the man are presented side-by-side, allowing for a fascinating insight into how your younger self shapes and defines you as you grow old. ‘Getting to know someone is a test of your own character rather than theirs.’ Todd explains. ‘All the best relationships in my life are with people that have allowed me to understand their evolution as a person. It’s about being perceptive. That, to me, is the true art of getting to know someone.’ Reading his book, Todd’s perception into the psychology of people shines through; his characters appear so real he’s often asked whether they’re explicitly based on real people. They’re not. It’s just brilliant character isation. Aglow with humour, the thrills and spills of sexual discovery and the hope of a man striving for reconciliation and acceptance, Tom Houghton is a novel as unique and char ismatic as Katherine Hepburn herself. Tom Houghton by Todd Alexander is published by Simon & Schuster, rrp $32.99.