LOVE, LOVE ME DO reviews

What the critics say about Mark Haysom’s debut novel, ‘Love, Love Me Do’

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Laura Lockington, B&H Independent, October 30 2014

‘You’ll be cheering the wonderful characters along as hope and optimism win the day’

This book transports you immediately straight back to the 1960s, with this touching and heart-warming tale. It’s a book about love, in all its complicated and messy forms.

It’s set in 1963, the year that The Beatles first top the charts, the year that Martin Luther King had a dream, and the year that Truman Bird unceremoniously drags his family from their Brighton home and abandons them in a leaky caravan in the middle of the Ashdown Forest. And then disappears.

Christie Bird married Truman too young. She’d had a great job in Hanningtons (and the description of that creaking, charmingly old-fashioned department store is wonderful) and didn’t want to leave work. But, back then, that’s what was expected.

Three children later in quick succession and married to the chancer and charmer Truman, she is bewildered as to how on earth she ended up here. In a draughty, cramped caravan in the middle of nowhere.

Truman is a liar and a cheat. But so far he’s always managed to get away with it. His dodgy deals and his gangster friends remind us that there was a very good reason that Brighton has always attracted the low life.

But life has a way of helping people along with their dreams and love is never far away. You’ll be cheering the wonderful characters along as hope and optimism win the day.

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ireadnovels, October 30 2014

‘A fabulously unique debut’

Set in the 60s this is the most original, funny, wise, dark and touching family drama you will read all year. A fabulously unique debut.

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Annabel’s House of Books, October 14 2014

‘An intriguing novel I really enjoyed it’

By ANNABEL GASKELL

Looking at the title and cover of this book, I was expecting something light-hearted, a little bit sixties rock’n’roll, a bit Nick Hornby-ish if you will – and involving a caravan. Well the last bit was right, less so the others.

The title, that of the Beatles’ first hit single, is an anchor in time, and the book opens in 1963, Friday August the 2nd at 5.24am to be precise.

Young Baxter is dreading that later today he might have to go on a day-trip home to Brighton with his father. His mum, Christie, had said it’d be a good thing to have some time with his father, but Baxter doesn’t want to go – he wants to stay in the caravan, play in the grass and go and see Soldier in the woods.

A few hours later, Christie is again wondering why her husband Truman had sprung a surprise holiday on them – in a caravan on the edge of the Ashdown forest fifty miles inland from their home – and then abandoned them there without a car to go to work.

It turns out that apart from be a charmer, Truman is a liar and a chancer, although Christie doesn’t know any of it. He’s a small-time con-man with an eye for the ladies and has a couple of mistresses on the go as well as Christie and their three children. He owes Mr Smith five grand – big money in those days. He had to do a disappearing act, hence the caravan, but he needs to go home – hence taking the boy with him for insurance. Mr Smith’s heavies can’t touch him with the boy…

What he doesn’t know is that Mr Smith has put Strachan on his trail. Strachan is a different class of heavy, older and looking to retire, well dressed – ‘You may not always be the best-looking man in the room,’ [his ma] she’d say to him, ‘but you can always be the man looking his best.’

The only character we’ve not really met yet is Soldier. He’s a tramp that lives in the woods, an ex-military man, obviously suffering from post traumatic stress even now although WWII ended 18 years ago. He talks to no-one, but Mrs. Chadney in the nearby farmhouse keeps an eye on him. 8-yr-old Baxter befriends him, and unbeknownst to Christie, Soldier is keeping an eye out for their safety too from the woods.

The story is told through the events of this single day, with lots of flashbacks to fill us in on the detail. We’ll find out about each of the five, their hopes and fears, their motivations, their searching for love – of whatever kind is on offer.

Christie, Baxter, Truman, Strachan and Soldier, each take turns in moving the story on through the day, each adding to the suspense. Will there be a showdown between Strachan and Truman at the end of the day? With the location setting, the build-up echoes Greene’s Brighton Rock a little – and we’ll get to find out a lot about Truman before the day is done.

This may be a debut novel, but Haysom is a newspaper man of long-standing and puts that to good use in an intriguing novel that is far more serious and far better than its cover would suggest. I really enjoyed it. (8.5/10)

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The Star of Malaysia, October 7 2014

‘Mark Haysom’s heartbreaking debut novel’

By TASHNY SUKUMARAN

An ordinary tale of a family struggling to make ends meet is delivered with telling effect.

THE Beatles’ first single, 1962’s Love Me Do, is a strikingly teenage effort – a promise to stay true, a vow of everlasting love and sweetness. But the same cannot be said of British author Mark Haysom’s debut novel, Love, Love Me Do – named for the song and also set in the 1960s – a powerful, exhausting story of both the frailness and strength of human hearts.

Truman Bird, a lying layabout of a man, forces his wife Christie and their children from their Brighton home into a crummy caravan parked in the Ashdown forest under the guise of a summer holiday.

But six weeks on he’s nowhere to be seen; he’s seeking out borrowed money and solace in unfamiliar arms on the road, while his wife cooks, cleans and worries in an “idiotic caravan in this hateful forest.”

(After all, Truman never really wanted children, it seems.)

Love, Love Me Do is not a little bit difficult to read: Truman’s casual, callous mistreatment of his own family is offputting and raises hackles. With minimal effort, Haysom has you by the heartstrings, picking a side and hoping for better days.

The language is clean, everyone has a voice that’s simple yet striking; an instinctive sympathy for Christie gives your heart pangs while Truman’s narration raises your hackles and earns much deserved disgust.

Out for an easy ride, Truman is constantly looking for money he can get without putting any work in and his fast talking ways make hardworking, bright Christie (whose dreams of going to college were shattered by a cynical mother, whose career was stopped short by a bullying husband) even more the heroine of this novel.

Although Love, Love Me Do professes to speak of 1960s and British places like Brighton and Sussex, it is a story that could be set anywhere at any time – 1980s Malaysia, for instance – and that will hit unsettlingly close to home for anyone who has struggled to make ends meet.

Christie’s children, too, are elegantly fleshed-out and three-dimensional without trying too hard. Baxter’s confusion and eagerness for a father who is present, who cares, makes for compelling reading (“If he could just get used to the way the boy looked at him with his mother’s eyes,” thinks Truman, “maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to spend some time with him”) while wild-eyed wide-smiling Megan will remind female readers of the moment they, as girls, realised the world will not treat them fairly as women.

The caravan, where much of Christie’s pain is played out, is threadbare and cramped, her tasks are minute in their scale but somehow so much more tiring in the confined space, especially with a fretting, teething baby.

And watching over the crummy caravan and its four occupants is a mysterious Soldier, a leftover of war living in the forest who swears to be their grizzled guardian angel in a stained, dark coat.

His companionship with Baxter is warm and real, the revelations heartbreaking (“it was the best day,” Baxter says of an afternoon spent making model trains with his father, “the only best day”) – there’s so much loss in love, and Haysom captures the hundreds of everyday betrayals just as vividly as the big ones.

Of course, no love story is complete without gangsters: a notorious gangster is on the hunt for Truman, who has finally bitten off more than he can talk his way out of. The wolfish Strachan, strangely honourable despite his line of work, quickly makes the scores that need settling personal.

What makes Love, Love Me Do so superb is how everyone in it (save Truman) has a heart, which carries with it a pity beyond all telling – hearts, after all, are not so sturdy … except when they are. From Christie to Strachan to Soldier and his sad story, Love, Love Me Do carries with it all the heartbreak and hope that comes with a second chance at life or, better still, love.

It would be presumptuous to say this book has a happy ending; but you’ll come away from it with better knowledge of a mother’s strength, a son’s honour and a soldier’s grace.

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The Independent on Sunday, August 31 2014

‘Haysom’s skilful debut … a highly readable novel with a warm heart’

A young boy living in a caravan with his mother and sister. An amnesiac hermit who appoints himself their guardian angel. The mother at her wits’ end being semi-abandoned by her husband. The husband, charming, philandering, bad-tempered, selfish. A hard-man enforcer on the streets of Brighton, with his own code of ethics. These are the dramatis personae of Haysom’s skilful debut novel, and the reader becomes caught up in the story of each one by turns. A convincing evocation of 1960s Britain, and a highly readable novel with a warm heart. It is somewhat reminiscent of Norman Collins or J.B. Priestley. Haysom has left the way open for a sequel too and anyone who has read this will want to read that.

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The Sun, August 8 2014

‘Wonderful debut about love, betrayal, family and childhood’

Truman Bird disappears after moving his family to a caravan in the Ashdown Forest. Has life caught up with him or does he have a plan? Set over a few days in 1963, Christie becomes despondent as she waits for her husband to return. Wonderful debut about love, betrayal, family and childhood. 5.

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Good Housekeeping, September 2014

‘Funny and heart-breaking’

As the Beatles storm the charts, single mum Christie struggles to get back on her feet. LOVE, LOVE ME DO by MARK HAYSOM manages to be both funny and heart-breaking.

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We Love This Book, July 31 2014

‘In just a word or two, Mark Haysom seems able to evoke the pain of a deserted parent or the fear of a little boy’

Love, Love Me Do points to the innocent naiveté of the 1960s, to an age when the expectation for girls was marriage, family and happy ever after. But our heroine, Chrissie, struggles to understand the dreadful disillusionment of marriage to a wide boy who has no intention of ever coming good. Though sparse in description, the use of cars, pubs and their luscious landladies, a gangster-style heavy and all the main male character’s finagling and manoeuvring, creates a vivid picture of this post-war era of high expectations and low performance.

The characters in the novel are strongly drawn and engage the emotions: the trepidation and uncertainty felt by the young boy, Baxter, is painfully apparent to the reader as is the confusion of his mother. In just a word or two, Mark Haysom seems able to evoke the pain of a deserted parent or the fear of a little boy. In some respects his most powerful portrait is of Soldier, a casualty of war, still living rough in the forest, whose presence dominates much of the story.  Tribute to the power of his characterisation is the disgust one feels for the main male character, Truman, who exploits and abuses everyone he meets in his efforts to live the easy life.

Full review: http://bit.ly/XAsZh6

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Irish Independent, April 12 2014

‘The book is bound to succeed … this novel is both original and stylish’

This is not a slim volume, yet most of the story occurs on Friday, August 2, 1963. Between 5.24am and 8.45pm, to be precise. The plot unravels through a chain of perspectives from the principal characters, four adults and a shy, frightened boy of eight, Baxter. Baxter’s family are “on holiday” in a caravan, moored in a remote part of Ashdown Forest. Having dumped them there for the summer, Baxter’s father – a monster called Truman – takes off on a philandering spree, returning regularly but never staying. Baxter’s mother, Christie, becomes increasingly anxious about the situation, and decides that the “holiday” is over. What she doesn’t know is that Truman’s world is collapsing, minute by minute, all in one day. And that Truman’s victims – financers and mistresses – are seeking revenge. Truman decides to effectively use Baxter as a human shield when the excrement hits the expel-air, and things get very dark indeed on this hot August day. The backdrop is affectionately depicted; it is the time of the author’s childhood. In 1963, The Beatles roar up the charts with the song of the book’s title. It’s also 18 years since World War Two, and Britain’s walking wounded are suffering. One of them appears in the novel, his mind and speech gone. He is Baxter’s only friend. The poignant episodes between Baxter and the silent “Soldier” are beautifully crafted. Mark Haysom is a man familiar with popular reading trends. He worked in newspapers for 30 years, ultimately as MD of the Mirror Group. One might argue that he’s been shrewd in picking his target for this debut; the book is bound to succeed. That said, this novel is both original and stylish. Critics, though, in an effort to “liken” him to someone, will probably choose Nick Hornby. If he can grin and bear it every time this happens, I reckon he’ll be fine.

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Country Style, April

‘This first novel places Haysom up there with the literary luminaries’

Deep in the Ashdown Forest, in England’s still green and pleasant land, Christie and her three children huddle in a caravan and wait for the paterfamilias to return and give his love and support. He is a man behaving badly but this is in the early 1960s , and women fall for his sleazy lines and riffle in their handbags for the tenners he’s constantly in need of – and sometimes a lot more. His terrified son, Baxter, needs a male someone to look out for him, opr just look at him, full stop. And someone does – a stranger. This first novel places Haysom up there with the literary luminaries. You saw it here first.

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