The Booktrust Review


The Cuckoo Boy By Grant Gillespie

This impressive debut is a parable that deconstructs the ‘perfect-family’ model with eerie tension

Published by To Hell With Publishing

Grant Gillespie’s debut novel The Cuckoo Boy starts quietly, slowly and awkwardly, as a repressed suburban couple adopt young James and crumble under the weight of raising a boy they feel no connection to and ultimately don’t understand. Steeped in the perfect idea of what parents should be, they try to mould the obstinate child into their own image, failing to ever engage him.

As he grows older, he starts to rely entirely on an imaginary friend called David. Then suddenly, about halfway through the novel snaps into shocking heart-wrenching territory as James meets the real life counterpart of his imaginary friend who helps to draw him out of himself and lead a more sociable life. This leads to an act of revenge that outs James as ‘not normal’ crushing the public perception as his not-so everyday parents.

The spirit of Gillespie’s novel lies in penetrating suburban conformities. Through a mixture of pathos, humour and sparse prose, he deconstructs the model family with care, wrestling with weighty topics like nature over nurture. His writing is confident and tinged with sadness for the poor Gardners, misguided in their dysfunctional needs. They never wanted James; they just wanted the idea of him, and if he couldn’t grow up to be the boy they wanted, well, where would he turn.

It’s a strange and interesting parable, bubbling away, and as the first novel to be published on the To Hell with Publishing imprint, signals a promising direction for independent publishers.

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