3 out of 4 stars
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That Guy What Killed Topsy is a collection of sixteen stories, that seem to centre around themes related to social issues and life in England. Some of these issues are crime and punishment, racism, homelessness, suicide, divorce, relationships and the family. The characters seem to vary between the ages of the late thirties to sixties, although there are some younger and older characters. Sometimes the stories are in a common era, and sometimes during the 1940s. At times, some characters tell the story in the first person, even at times switching between characters who all give their perspectives. At other times stories are told in the third person.
Since Peter Wood Cotterill grew up in Kent during wartime England, resided in Essex, East London, and West Sussex before emigrating to Rhodes in Zimbabwe, where he lived for twelve years, we are not surprised that these places are the base for these stories. We find stories happening in each of these places, and the characters speak in their local accents. Most of the stories occur in England and mention places that are known, such as Guy's hospital in London. Other stories occur in Zimbabwe, but the main characters still seem to be English.
Having grown up in wartime England, we find that some of the stories go back to the 1940s and some have a wartime theme to them, such as the dying victim of a wartime bomb. It seems that memories or things that were known to Cotterill have influenced some of these stories.
That Guy What Killed Topsy is the first story in the book about a man who had killed a woman who he had loved and is doing time in prison. Why did he kill her and what will happen to him in Britain? Another story concerns a female entrepreneur, there are several stories that concern homeless people, the story of a suicide case whose reason does not seem to be clear, except when his former abandoned wife has some more information.
The story 'I love Rhinos, cos they keep on charging 'is the logo of a marketing group. Several different individuals, including a retired teacher, Anna, who is on pensions, a hairdresser and her ex-husband who is a bi-sexual but a businessman. The religious pastor, John, Shamira, the Muslim woman who seems to be trying to fit in, and the black British man, Terry who grew up in the UK. They come together for a marketing opportunity, and they demonstrate some of the different people found in society as well as the opinions of society towards each of them. Here they try to get along and respect each other for business reasons. When a teenage girl breaks into their meeting, they are faced with one of societies 'underclass' as they call it. Is she an underprivileged person who we all should feel sorry for? Or has she been spoilt and is simply ungrateful for all the good and support she has been offered in Britain?
This is the second of three books written by Peter Wood Cotterill.
What I liked about the stories, were that many were light to read and had a light humour in them. Some of the characters, despite being homeless seemed quite carefree. Peter Wood Cotterill also gives a voice to many of these weaker, more forgotten members of society, who finally have their stories told. In fact, many of the characters I felt could be identified with, as if I had met them it known them before, or someone like them. I also liked the way he tried to include as many characters as possible, especially those that we might expect to meet in London. Mentioning places such as Guys Hospital in London, also made the stories more authentic and relatable since the places are known.
The editing of the book was very good, and I did not come across any grammatical errors.
Other than that, I enjoyed reading some of the stories told in the first person and switching at times between characters. It seemed to help us relate to them better.
Perhaps what I did not like about some of the stories were that they were not personally relatable to me. I have never been to Zimbabwe and was not that interested in reading about it, but the writer also made it seem a not so appealing place to be. It seemed that the characters themselves did not really want to be there were in a hurry to leave and I did not feel much enjoyment reading the stories based there. Also, many of the characters seemed to be divorced or going through divorces, or suffering from its effects and I wondered why none of them was shown to be in happy, successful marriages.
When I read about Shamira, the Muslim woman, I was a bit disappointed that she was not shown to be trying to practice her faith while trying to fit in with those around her in the meeting. It would have been nice to see a Muslim woman choosing not to drink alcohol, keeping to her faith and values while trying to fit in to modern society, rather than trying to fit it by compromising her faith. Also I felt that Terry could have been portrayed as the British man who happened to be black, rather than the black man who was born in the UK. I just felt that some of these ideas of being British or 'other, ' could be better.
However, the book was an enjoyable and interesting read and highlighted many of British societies issues and behaviour. Many of the stories were light-hearted and enjoyable with relatable characters, so I did not find any reason to give the book lower than three stars. However, there were times I felt bored reading about Zimbabwe and about the various divorces, and since there was quite a bit of swearing I felt that some readers may be put off by that, so I gave the book 3 out of 4 .
I thought the book would mainly appeal to people who would like a light read, and who are perhaps commuters and people who read in their lunch break. It would interest those who have visited, or lived in England and know some of the issues and culture the writer alludes to, yet anyone else may also have the interest to read it. Also, I felt it be more appropriate to adults between the ages of about 35-65 since most characters fell into that age group. Yet any other age group may enjoy reading these short stories.
If someone does not like swearing and is put off by issues such as homelessness, down and outs, divorces, the underclass and so forth, then they may not enjoy this book.
That Guy What Kill Topsy
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