Theo is the coming-of-age tale of a ten year old boy with an unusual childhood. As the son of a rock musician and a fragile, estranged mother, Theo is forced to lead an unconventional and often unpleasant childhood.
‘The black and white photos are of people at the house a long time ago, around the pool when it worked, and at the gazebo; pictures of parties, of people in the rooms’
Theo lives in a ‘Great Gatsby’ style mansion in Long Island, a mansion that is in a worn and decrepit state. In the absence of his father Adrian, a musician who is always on tour and his mother who similarly drifts in and out of his life, Theo is left in the care of his grandfather and a minder. The characters are certainly frustrating. As the novel progresses, the true extent of Theo’s isolation becomes clear. This is a young boy in a big house and whilst he is sheltered from the outside world, people from the outside lurk within the mansion walls, strangers doing things he’s still too young to understand. We see a child in desperate need for parental love and guidance, whose problems cannot be solved by the expensive toys and sporting memorabilia that his parents bring back from their travels.
‘Everyone is just a head, carried around on feet and with hands to put things in its mouth’
It is not just the parents that pose a problem for a boy growing up. The mansion is frequented by ‘hangers-on’ a steady stream of strangers who come and go. Theo does not know who occupies the rooms of his home from one day to the next. There are also things he does not understand as he overhears sexual encounters and witnesses the seedier side of fame and fortune. Whilst he tries to process this new information, he has no-one to go to with which to discuss these new discoveries, the things he sees in the mansion that are beyond a ten year olds comprehension.
‘Well, my friend, I think we take all the beauty and love and joy we made in our life, and when our times up, we ride that joy up in the air like a balloon…’
Aside from Theo’s naivety and coming of age the novel explores the effects of fame and the dark side of life as a musician. When Adrian arrives with an entourage consisting of PR and band members amongst others this leads to all manner of things. From casual sex to drugs and evading the police it certainly portrays the ugly side effects of fame and fortune. Most crucially, Adrian himself is letting this lifestyle overshadow his responsibilities as a father and he remains distant throughout. This is heartbreaking as his mother is also distant, visiting her son between visits to rehab.
I wasn’t as gripped by this story as I had hoped but there were certainly aspects of the novel I enjoyed. I felt that the portrayal of his innocence was perfect and you could really see things through a child’s eyes. It is a story of naivety, fame, growing up and being alone in a sea of strangers.