The Admirable TinkerJuly 17, 2013
So, apparently not every seraphic but practical child protagonist Edgar Jepson creates is going to be wonderful. The title character of The Admirable Tinker, like Pollyooly, is repeatedly described as an angel child and has a knack for attracting improbably large sums of money, but the book lacks whatever it was that made Pollyooly so magical.
That said, I enjoyed The Admirable Tinker. Just not as much as I thought I was going to.
Tinker is first introduced via his father, SIr Tancred Beauleigh, who has a face like Lucifer’s (to contrast with Tinker’s seraphic one) — and who is in search of a son he’s only just found out he has. Sir Tancred’s vulgar stepmother concealed the kid’s existence, and when Sir Tancred finally finds him, he’s in the care of a pair of abusive alcoholics, and is so grimy that it takes weeks of washing for his skin to stop being gray. It takes much longer than that for Tinker not to be terrified of everyone he meets, but we flash forward through most of that, as Tinker and Sir Tancred spend the better part of the next decade bumming around the UK and Europe.
That’s the big place where this went wrong for me. Tinker is about 12 for most of the book, and he’s a pretty weird kid, but he’s weird because he’s spent his childhood traveling and his father taught him to fence and be highly observant and not to do math. And that’s all very well, but if his peripatetic upbringing explains his detached attitude and extensive knowledge and complete self-possession, what’s the point of the troubled early childhood?
The rest of the book is enjoyable enough. Tinker plays tricks on people, and most of the time they serve some kind of practical purpose, but I think my favorite thing about him is how perfectly at home he is in all situations. My favorite bit involves him outfitting an American millionaire with a new wardrobe. That’s fun, and so are a lot of other bits, but I felt like Jepson was condescending to Tinker at times. And it’s not that he didn’t do that with Pollyooly so much as that I didn’t think about whether he’d done that with Pollyooly until it bothered me in The Admirable Tinker.
So, fun, but maybe not fun enough.