It’s not often that you get a book with alternative titles these days. It used to be more common in the old days. Thus you would have Charles Dickens titling a novel Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy’s Progress, and Mary Shelley calling her gothic tale Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. But I recently read a book published only last year that has three possible titles, as the cover proudly proclaims — Horton Halfpott, or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor, or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset.
Horton Halfpott is the new kids novel from Tom Angleberger, the author of The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda (see my post “Following the blog posts to Origami Yoda”) and its sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back (see my post “Darth Paper Strikes Back”). This new book bares little resemblance to the author’s previous two works — which is a good thing. It’s nice to see him branching out.
It is a very odd tale. It all begins one morning in Smugwick Manor, when M’Lady Luggertuck decides to loosen her corset. Suddenly, she is no longer quite as angry or mean-spirited as she has been all her life. The momentous event comes to be known as The Loosening, and sets off a chain of events that will change the fortunes of a lowly kitchen boy named Horton, as well as all the residents of Smugwick Manor.
I love the ‘olde worlde’ turn of phrase in this book, and the way so many events are given undeserved importance with capitalisation — the book is full of “Unprecedented Marvels” and even a “Considerably Larger and Somewhat More Ancient Evil”. And then there are the many bizarre metaphors and similes…
But wait, you ask, how could Luther—intolerable, obnoxious, odious, odoriferous, and generally unbearable—win the hand of the most sought-after young lady in England? Why, with an Evil Plan, of course.
And, like a fungus of the foot, just such a plan began to fester and grow in the damp recesses of Luther’s brain—sporing from synapse to synapse until his whole head itched with it.
I also got a chuckle from the way the author often refers to fictitious books about the past adventures of M’Lady Luggertuck, such as M’Lady Luggertuck and the Unlucky Cobbler and M’Lady Luggertuck’s Parisian Shopping Spree.
The plot is twisting and turning, but in a reasonably predictable way. There are no major plot surprises in this story… but it doesn’t matter. I think the plot works as well as it does because it plays upon readers’ expectations and fills its pages with bizarre and over-the-top characters— from Miss Neversly, the cook who constantly beats Horton about the head with her wooden spoon, to the great self-promoting detective Portnoy St. Pomfrey, who is rather less adept at solving mysteries than his press would have you believe.
After reading this book, I am very much looking forward to Mr Angleberger’s next literary effort, which I am very pleased to say is again, multi-titled. Fake Mustache, or, How Jodie O’Rodeo and her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind is due out in April this year.
Catch ya later, George
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