Going Home by Tom Lamont: We are family

Cover image for Going Home by Tom LamontI was in two minds about reading Tom Lamont’s debut, Going Home. The synopsis made me think it might wander off into mawkishly sentimental territory but Lamont appeared on the Observer’s ’10 Best New Novelists of 2024’ list alongside Leo Vardiashvili whose Hard By a Great Forest I’d very much enjoyed so I decided to give it a try. Lamont’s novel spans a year in the lives of three men and a toddler whose mother takes her own life.

The relentlessness and the repetitiveness of childcare, it halved you then it quartered you.

Téo moved away from Enfield a decade or so ago. He’s doing well at work, has a flat but still yearns for Lia who he’s adored since they were at school together. Visiting for the weekend, he calls in on his best friend Ben, the hedonist son of wealthy parents, joining the poker game attended by Ben’s circle of acolytes who hang on his every word. The next day, Téo meets Lia and two-year-old Joel in the park having volunteered for a day’s babysitting. Lia’s non-appearance when it’s time to collect Joel sets alarm bells ringing. Bright, sassy and beautiful, Lia had been a depressive all her life. When Téo’s worst fears are realised, he sets Joel up in his father’s flat. Vic is delighted by the prospect of a second chance at fatherhood after what he feels is a botched job with Téo but cagey about the illness which is leaving him increasingly unable to get around. Social Services’ machinery grinds into action with the help of Sibyl, the local rabbi, deeming Téo a suitable temporary carer, plunging him into a parenting role he didn’t ask for while Ben looks on, unreliable and inept, but throwing money at the situation. Over the next year, a kind of family is formed from this disparate set of characters with Joel at its centre.

Ben seemed caught out: as if he had tried being interested in someone else’s problems, and look where that adventure had landed him.

Lamont narrates his novel from the perspectives of Téo, Vic, Ben and Sibyl, each dealing with the fallout from Lia’s death and the entrance of Joel into their lives: Téo’s is changed beyond recognition; Ben is finally forced into adulthood; Sibyl grapples with the waning of her faith and Vic struggles with his deteriorating condition making a terrible error of judgement which could result in disaster for Joel. It’s the kind of set up which might well have descended into sentimental schlock but Lamont steers it well clear of that. Joel’s appearances are wisely kept rare, and when they are made he’s both heartrending and funny but never cute. The three men are the focus of this novel which explores the way in which family can mean very different things, and how the most selfish can respond when crisis hits even if it does take some time. An enjoyable, smartly delivered piece of fiction, funny, warm-hearted and empathetic. Any misgivings were quickly scuppered.

Sceptre Books London 9781399727495 320 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)

20 thoughts on “Going Home by Tom Lamont: We are family”

  1. As I began readng your review, all sorts of alarm bells about gratuitous misery flashed through my mind. But you have appeased them and I’ll look out for what now looks to be a thoughtfully delivered story.

  2. Like you, I would have felt a bit unsure about the plotline, but it’s great to hear that sentimentality was avoided. I will keep an eye out for this one.

  3. “The relentlessness and the repetitiveness of childcare, it halved you then it quartered you.” I stopped reading to text this quote to my 28 year old daughter at home with my 1 year old grandson. Her response? AMEN.

    Like Margaret21 said above I, too, feared “gratuitous misery” but your well written review changed my mind and now I’m off to see if I can get this from a library or how much it would cost to buy it. Thanks

  4. This does sound good. I think it’s very difficult to write convincing small children, so it’s impressive that he pulls it off.

    1. I think keeping Joel’s appearances to a minimum was a brilliant move. Child characters so often jar, don’t they. Swiv in Miriam Toews Fight Night was another rare example of getting it right for me.

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