The Boy Who Fell to Earth – a romantic comedy with a pinch of social satire and a soupcon of heartbreak

Meet Merlin. He’s Lucy's bright, beautiful son - who just happens to be autistic. If only he came with operating instructions…

The paperback of my latest novel The Boy Who Fell to Earth is out today and I’ve been thinking a lot about the best way to describe it. It’s basically a romantic comedy with a pinch of social satire and a soupçon of heartbreak. My friend, Emily Mortimer, who hopes to get the book filmed, says it’s got a flavour of Being There, Silver Lining Playbook and the The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, only told from the mother’s point of view. (She’s my friend, so she has to say these nice things!)

LUCY is a teacher in her early twenties with a brash sense of humour. JEREMY is a handsome but rather serious upper class English financier. Though opposites, they fall in love and are blissfully happy … until they notice that their son is different. Aged 3, Merlin is diagnosed with autism. This is a diagnosis which drags you into the dark. Lucy is heartbroken to hear her child so labelled but feels a protective lioness type love… Jeremy leaves her for a younger woman and a career in America.

In public, Lucy uses humour to fake an air of insouciance, joking, “When a woman marries, she should pause and think – is this the name I want to see on my monthly maintenance cheque?” but at home she is desperate, writing Jeremy begging emails. But soon one thing becomes clear- it is Lucy and Merlin against the world…

Much of the comedy in the book comes from Merlin’s candour. When he turns 9, Lucy’s mother and sister convince Lucy that the boys needs a male role model. Lucy is cajoled into dipping a poorly pedicured toe back into the world of dating. For the next five years, in a series of funny vignettes, we see Merlin accidentally sabotaging Lucy’s potential romances. People with aspergers have no filter: they say whatever they’re thinking. Subsequently all fledgling romances are ruined when Lucy’s son points out that her date’s chin looks like “upside testicles”.  Or reveals to another man that his Mum’s sister finds him a bit “two faced” adding, “But if so, then why are you wearing that one, when it’s all wrinkly and crinkly and old?”

Basically, every social scenario involving Merlin leaves Lucy sweating more than Paris Hilton playing scrabble. Finally Lucy tells her mother and sister that she’s given up men for good. “No more relationship roulette! It’s just me and Merlin, forever.”

….Enter ARCHIE, the most perfectly imperfect man on the planet.

I’m not telling you any more, or I’ll spoil the book. Except to say that as the story progresses we realize that Lucy has come to need her son just as much as he needs her, possibly to the detriment of them both. The question is, which one of them is the ‘savant’ and which one the ‘idiot?’.  As well as being a comedy romance, I do hope the book shines a light into the world of autism and helps us all to be a little more understanding of people who are different.

Read the second instalment of Kathy’s The Boy Who Fell to Earth feature tomorrow…

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