Tommy's World by Billy Hopkins

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Tommy's World by Billy Hopkins

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A lightly-fictionalised biography of the author's father brings to life the inner-city Manchester of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The picture of life in and around Smithfield Market is superb. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: November 2009
Publisher: Headline
ISBN: 978-0755359585

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Tommy Hopkins was born in October 1886 in Collyhurst, one of the poorer, inner-city suburbs of Manchester. His father had quite a good job and there wasn't a lot of money to spare but Tommy remembered the home as being filled with love and laughter. He was an only child but thought that he was spoilt in terms of affection rather than in the form of worldly goods. All that was to change when his father died of spinal meningitis and he and his mother had to move into cheaper lodgings. Even that tenuous security wasn't to last for long – his mother died of a heart attack in her thirties, leaving Tommy an orphan before he was eight years old.

Tommy's World is the lightly fictionalised story of the life of the author's father. It's been built up from stories that Tommy told his son over a pint in the local pub and whilst Billy Hopkins can't vouch for the accuracy of the stories he was told and some characters are composites in the interests of making a better story it is essentially a biography of his father's early life. It's the seventh book which the author has written on similar themes but it can easily be read as a stand-alone and if you were planning on reading more than one Hopkins advises that this might well be a good place to start.

Faction is always a difficult balancing act – being too loyal to the story can mean that there's a lack of dramatic impact, but the story loses its point if it strays too far from the known facts. By and large Hopkins treads the line well, giving life to the people but above all bringing to life the Manchester of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It struck me how casually we accept our right to free health care and to the social support of the twentieth century when both were completely absent just a hundred years ago.

If the picture of Manchester as a whole is good, the book really comes to life when Tommy begins work in Smithfield Market. He begins in a low-paid job which doesn't cover what he needs to spend to live and at one point has to move in with his best friend – a donkey. Hard work and perseverance win the day and by the end of the book he's an established porter earning what seems to him like riches.

The characters will stay with you after you've finished the book, but what you won't be left with is the sickly sweet taste of nostalgia. If you like to learn something from a good story then this could well be the book for you.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For more lightly-fictionalised biography we can recommend A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin, Rough Justice by Keith Watson and Lady's Maid by Margaret Forster.

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