Matt Haig’s 2007 book about a year 7 boy whose father has just died defies the subject matter to become a funny and entertaining novel. Phillip Noble’s dad used to run the pub before he ran into a bridge in his car. His uncle Alan, a mechanic, has designs on his mother and to make matters worse his dad’s ghost comes back to tell him that he has to kill his uncle Alan as it was his fault that the brakes failed on his car.
The comedy is ramped up as Alan tries to talk to his father, who flickers on and off like a TV set, while trying to look sane. His trip to Hadrian’s Wall, which he had looked forward to for ages, is ruined because his dad makes him steal a minibus to try to drive back to save his mother. To make matters even more complex, Philip is being bullied at school and has a very domineering girlfriend with a very tough older brother.
This retelling of Hamlet is clever and the writing is very funny. The narration is Phillip’s interior monologue and his way of looking at the world is wonderfully fresh. He has a fish named Gertrude and chooses a video to watch with his uncle Alan called ‘The Murder of Gonzago’. Ross and Gary, the barmaid’s sons are suspected of spying on Phillip and a few lines from the original are dropped in for good measure, however, the whole thing never feels too much.
Phillip has to choose between his conscience and his duty to his father and we watch his struggle with wry amusement and occasionally squirming at the awkwardness of being an adolescent.
Recommended if you liked ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’.