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By: Marcus Toyne

That Afternoon

Pages: 214 Ratings: 5.0
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Michael Talbot has spent the last twenty-five years working at the tax office, where he is known ironically to his colleagues as Old Sunbeam. Behind the mask of surly efficiency, Michael is in fact a highly sensitive person who was once a charming and lively little boy of six, until the terrible day when his mother unaccountably disappeared, leaving him to the mercies of his father, Eric, a bully of a man with little sympathy for children who indulges his boisterous sense of fun at his son’s expense. Despite this profoundly unsatisfactory relationship, Michael remains attached to Eric in a dutiful slavish sort of way, continuing to meet him occasionally for lugubrious drinks. And so life might have continued indefinitely until early one morning the phone shrills with a frightening message from the local hospital, galvanising him into frenzied and panic-stricken action and launching him into an extraordinary and terrifying adventure. Michael freely admits that his description of this adventure beggars belief, but however real or unreal it may have been, it has freed him from the stranglehold of the past, so that at last he can move forward into fulfilment in a future full of promise.

Marcus Toyne fell in love with reading and writing at an early age and has spent his working life as an English teacher, initially in school and later in adult education. He has played ‘cocktail piano’ in hotels. He and his wife, Barbara, have four sons and innumerable grandchildren. Family life has been strenuous, lively and very rewarding, particularly in the 1970s in the Findhorn Foundation Community on the Moray Firth. However, Marcus has now retired from full-time teaching and has been living in Devizes, Wiltshire, for nearly forty years.

Customer Reviews
5 reviews
5 reviews
  • James Oliver

    That Afternoon Marcus Toyne

    Ranging as it does from science fiction to magic realism, this novel makes quite an impact, telling the story of what could be termed 'the healing journey'. The tale is told by Michael Talbot, who works at the tax office, and is known ironically by his colleagues as Old Sunbeam. He has turned himself into a grumpy and officious person, but this hitherto reliable 'front' is undermined in an extraordinary and dramatic way. The death of his father triggers a plunge headlong into a terrifying series of events, but fortunately, an encounter with a mysterious old man enables him to take a fresh look at his life. It's not always obvious where the line between real and symbolic experience should be drawn, a good example being his encounter with a German girl culminating in a strange transformation into 'a veil of swirling mist'. Marcus Toyne is someone who has obviously dipped more than a toe into all manner of subjects from life after death to vintage jazz, and there are definite echoes of writers like Iris Murdoch and Graham Swift, although the author's informal style is very much his own. A highly enjoyable, eminently readable and thought-provoking novel, which I am sure will attract a wide readership. I wish the author every success.

  • David Black

    Most accomplished piece of work, very easy to read and engaging. The psychology of Old Sunbeam, Michael Talbot, the narrator of the story, was very interesting, someone who found it very difficult to be close and intimate with others, because of his traumatic loss at the age of six and in many ways then adopting some of his father's charmless characteristics in spite of himself. The old man who befriends Michael is a surprising figure, difficult as it is to decide whether he is a real flesh and blood person or a hallucinatory figure, who is very important by opening the door to memory or fantasy, allowing Michael to go where he'd never been before. The heart of the matter in this novel is Michael's relationship with his parents and the author has a special talent for conveying the imaginative world of a small boy.

  • Shirley McCaw

    The main character Mr Talbot is firmly entrenched in his 'difficult chap' character. We know he wants to change but he lacks the inspiration or motivation to do so. When he is given the surprising opportunity to delve into his past we find ourselves desperate for him to become a better and happier person. How will he achieve this when all the odds are seemingly stacked against him?

    Toyne takes us on an intriguing journey, where diverging thoughts take you off in many different directions, the details of which gradually reveal more and more about Michael's life. The silky flow of words is peppered with wonderful turns of phrases and unexpected and witty metaphors. There are minute observations at the most surprising of times, for example as he is sitting terrified in the back of a car which is racing down country lanes, he still manages to notice and ponder on the fact that the cattle in the field are all facing the same way, followed by a lengthy description of his first girlfriend and then effortlessly back to the racing car. Toyne is a great observer of life and entertains the reader with his philosophising.

    To sum it up (no pun intended) the story is like a set of financial accounts that Michael pours over to reveal the many important transactions in his life, so that everything becomes clear, or does it? You will not be disappointed by this clever and descriptive tale.

  • Ingrid Parrilla Sanchez

    I love the way the author plays with the present and the past, as well as with reality and alternative reality. I smiled throughout the book as the main character opens up his whole mind and personal experiences (including the intimate ones) making one feel as if he's talking to an old friend with no limits whatsoever. The metaphor of the kaleidoscope works well, because kaleidoscopes can't determined the next pattern on their own, but have to be shaken by the subject's hand creating a 'shared responsibility' for the events to come. The plot is very cleverly designed and kept me thinking, 'Where is this going?', 'Where did this come from?' continuously interlacing past and present, without losing the reader in the process. And I enjoyed the ending of the story, but you'll have to read it to find out why!

  • Graham Swift - author of 'Last Orders'

    Letter in response to reading the novel
    You handle the moving around in time and associated moving between reality and (possible) fantasy/hallucination/dream very skilfully. I imagine this might have cost you a great deal of work, even occasional despair, but it all works naturally and well. A degree of confusion is, in fact, part of the package and it does the reader no harm to wonder now and then where they 'are'. I found the feeling of being drawn into a strange twisting tunnel one of the novel's strengths and successes. The shape isn't obvious, but it's a very satisfyingly shaped book. So bravo and congratulations! You pull off that tricky thing - a happy ending, which, given much of the subject-matter, is also a happy surprise. The final 'hurrah' is well earned.

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