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Little People by Tom Holt

01/04/2003. Contributed by Phil Jones

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Pub: Orbit/Times Warner. 374 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 0-84149-185-3.

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There has always been a fascination with fairies, gnomes and other small creatures such as elves. According to the Collins English Dictionary, it defines an elf as 'one of a kind of legendary being, usually characterised as small, man-like and mischievous'.

In both Anglo-Saxon England and Norse myths they are seen as being far more complex. The Norse tradition break down elves into 'light' elves (ljósálfar) and 'dark' elves (dokkálfar) or 'black' elves (svartálfar) - ref. Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson. This book demonstrates how complex elves can be.

At the age of eight, Michael saw his first elf in the back garden. He was an avid fan of ‘Star Trek’ and compared the ears of the elf to that of Spock. This, though, would not be the last time he encountered an elf.

He and his father, Daddy George, don't see eye to eye and to get Michael out of the way, he is sent to boarding school. Not one to mix and make many friends, he finds companionship (sort of) in the aptly named Cruella.

While on holiday over the Christmas period, curiosity gets the better of Michael. He puts out milk and biscuits to try to find evidence that elves exist and live in his back garden. It works and he finds a very small roll-up cigarette.

He then takes his research to another level and puts out beer. This pays off when he sees another elf, who happens to be a bit worse for wear due to the consumption of the beer and biscuits.

Things take a sharp turn when back at school very tiny writing appears in his diary asking for help. Not only that but he finds all the solutions to his maths homework answered again in miniature writing.

He shows the answers to the quadratic equations to Cruella, asking her to confirm that they are correct with some of her friends who are good with calculations. The solutions are correct and, what's more, they use a totally new method of mathematics to solve the equation.

Michael starts to discover there is a lot more going on than his Daddy George just running a shoe factory. There is also a darker side to his step-father.

Tom Holt really does shine in this book. The character of Michael is developed gradually and the recanting of his childhood is aided by short asides and little spin-off stories. Tom Holt is just so good at writing in this way. Puns and humorous passages are numerous but don't detract or feel tagged on.

There are relatively few points at which you will laugh out loud but this book will make you chuckle away to yourself with glee. I think most people will relate to Michael's growing pains and family gatherings in some way. The description of a family Christmas is just sublime. I don't know whether the character of Michael is based on Tom Holt's own childhood/teenage years but this is pure observational comedy at its best.

The writing is fast-paced but not lacking in development of either story or characters. Like some of his previous books, the storyline is almost fairytale like in nature in a sort of warped way. Even when Tom Holt takes the wildest tangent from the rest of the book, he never loses sight of the plot.

There are wholesome references to ‘Star Trek’ (Tom Holt is an avid Star Trek fan), ‘The Prisoner’ and many other more recent references, even one referring to ‘Changing Rooms’ (the TV programme). Scientific ideas such as duality and quantum theory are thrown into the mix with gleeful abandonment.

Some people may not like the loose plot or rambling asides but to me this just makes the book. It's a very funny study of human nature. Fans of Tom Holt will love it and it's not a bad point to start at if you have never read any Tom Holt before.

If you want something that's light-hearted but makes you think then this is the book for you. Go out and buy some Tom Holt. You'll enjoy it.

Phil Jones

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