Tom Holt – The Portable Door – Book Review


Okay well one incredibly annoying review I have read of this book stated that it was basically Harry Potter for adults. Well true as that might have been if Harry Potter was hilarious, inventive and fun this book is so much more than an attempt by Holt to cash in on the Potter success, The similarities begin and end in the realm of magic and that is it, The Portable Door stands out head and shoulders above it’s market rivals on terms of both humour and readability and is also an excellent introduction in the madcap fan-com world of Tom Holt and so now that mini rant is over I think I should start my review.. Hold onto your hats it’s going to be a bumpy ride ;o) 

If for whatever reason you haven’t had the good fortune to have tried a Tom Holt novel before, this book gives you a real sense of escaping somewhere while you are reading (something that can be found in many Holt’s) he seems to have a real knack for putting you in the scene transporting you right into the story as a sideline extra and feeding you a few tasty one liners along the way – which is exactly what I like most in a book 

The Portable Door is variously described on the jacket as “uniquely twisted” , “wildly imaginative” and “fast and funny”. and for once the cover blurb is 101% spot on, I mean this book comes with praise from the great Rob Grant (of Red Dwarf fame) what bigger stamp of gigglefest authenticity do you need? 

In the lead character Paul you get a real feeling of the eternal trudge that is his life, Holt writes about him in such a way you get a feeling that some of Paul’s personality might be more than a little Holtish in itself. 

And so as the down beaten, poor rejected, old sod is dragged through life kicking and screaming, so be it that most of the laughs in the novel are scored off Paul Carpenter’s character; his ineptitude with women and downright fatalism give Holt plenty to work with. The story here is told from Carpenter’s point of view alone, so you get a close-up and personal view of his staggering inability to converse in even the most basic of fashions with the opposite sex and also his generally passive approach to life. 

Holt’s observations through the character of Paul are both funny and poignant. It’s easy to understand Carpenter’s anxieties and I cringed several times at the sheer familiarity I felt with some of the situations, something that most definitely helped with increasing my involvement and also ultimately my enjoyment of the book, and is probably what made me push so whole heartedly for my wife to read and enjoy the book also (Which she has, she did, and you can read her own review at DooYoo if you need further persuading) 

Let’s break this book down simply as at it’s core it is indeed a simple book, easy reading comedy with a romantic heart and a genuine soul, don’t get me wrong Paul is indeed a loser, A feckless university dropout with a physical age of about 20 and an emotional age of about 11, as the story starts we learn he has been abandoned by his retired parents to face the cruel realities of life in the Real? World, his character is a well blended mix of any sad, lonely and unattractive to the opposite sex type that one can imagine living in the personal hell that is bed-sit-land. 

But it’s not all bad news for Paul after all he’s just got a new job at the mysterious J.W. Wells & Co that sees him in an office with an unfanciable girl (whom he of course, fancies) doing strange unaccountable work for strange unaccountable managers. 

The fact Paul gets the job at all is somewhat of a mystery after-all he gives what has to be the worst (if not the funniest) response to an interview question.. 

Q/ “What do you most admire about the works of Chekhov?” 

A/ “The way he says ‘Course laid in, keptin’ is pretty cool” 

*laughing again now as I type it for this quote (I am a sad, sad man)* 

With all these shenanigans going on, you can be forgiven for thinking The Portable Door is going to be yet another overly complex Holt in the same mould as Falling Sideways but thankfully it isn’t it’s an entertaining read, and as you bounce from one absurd happening to another the plot never drops away from you it is always clearly within your sights and I think that is the big difference here, my wife says Tom Holt has “grown up as a writer” with this book and I really do have to agree with her for once. There’s a wonderful sense of fun that pervades the entire novel and it’s almost as if your eyes, in passing over the words, release the smiles as you read; a sort of visual scratch-and-sniff effect. There may not be vast numbers of laugh out loud moments (although when Paul and Sophie finally come face to face with the owner of the red eyes, my chortle was loud and long) but there is a very persistent underlying chuckle throughout the entire story. 

Entwined around this light-hearted prose, are two intriguing mysteries. The first centres on what business J. W. Wells & Co are really in; with an office where the walls have disappearing scratch marks in them, the vault is full of unusual antiquities like a number of incredibly ugly portraits of Hollywood stars, Scarlett O’Hara’s birth certificate and a Norwich Union life policy in the name of Vlad Dracul – and then of course there’s the pair of glowing red eyes that occupies the rooms after hours. However, somewhat at odds to the rest of his personality Paul seems relatively unfazed by this madness that seems to be unfolding around him. His mind (of course) is on more important matters such as wooing fellow office junior Sophie, a rude skinny thing with the “sexual appeal of a hole-punch” but It all leaves you wondering doesn’t it. and of course the subsequent puzzle and I guess you could say second storyline (and mini-setup for the sequel) launches off the back of the first one, before carrying the second half of the book through to its ultimately satisfying conclusion (but that is a secret, you’ll just have to read now won’t you *wg*) 

Well I think we have already established the underlying humour in this novel but there is also a lot of power, a lot of emotion, a lot of heart and that all stems from in it’s execution, all the stories main Characters are established early on in the narrative to return full throttle as the tale progresses and the superb writing style of Holt handles things in such a way that we are often left to look deep within ourselves and identify with the hero if at least in part and that was an important part of the book for me it runs through` the entire storyline and keeps your hooked to the final page, something I find lacking in a lot of books nowadays. 

In somewhat of a summary If you have ever loved, or loved and lost, or dreamed about loving, or dreamed about losing the one you love, or if you’ve ever.. well.. what I am trying to say is this is a book that can easily appeal to the masses, I’ve passed it onto my sister-in-law, my mother-in-law, my wife and they have all picked there own message out from the pages, each seen their own light and I look forward to reading it with my daughter in a few years time. 

Holt has learnt his lessons well from his past mistakes and criticism and with The Portable Door he is incredibly clever when inserting the hooks in the text, they sit and wait to snag your curiosity as you read and for once with Holt they are evenly-spaced, so you don’t slip off the hook at any time, and they’re utterly boggling incidents when you reach them.. Of course, everything becomes clear (and only ever slightly contrived (after all it is a Holt..)) at the end, when possession of all the facts makes it quite obvious. This final explanation is smooth, logical and acceptable and illustrates Holt’s writing skills beautifully. 

I shall finish now I think I’ve rambled enough, but I cannot go without just saying that this is truly an incredibly enjoyable romp through the many dungeons of Tom Holt’s uniquely twisted imagination, and the hearty sprinkling of cracking gags make this the must read book it is.. If you’ve read Holt before and felt it was good but not great then this is a book for you, also If you’ve read Holt before and got a headache from the plot five pages in then this is the book for you, If you’ve never read Tom Holt but work in an office where the Stapler is never in the same place twice and the photocopier only works when Big Bill from Accounting gives it a boot up the arse then this is the book for you, and if you just enjoy a light read that is full of laughter then (you know what I’m gonna say *g*) this is Tom Holt “On Form” firing on all cylinders and doing what he does best turning ordinary everyday situations into bizarre comedy. 

..and it doesn’t just end there folks, nope In Your Dreams, the sequel to The Portable Door, is now out and is more of the same (only moreso) it’s a perfect companion read for just after you have finished this :o)


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  1. jefft

    As a person who has dipped a metaphorical toe into the drawn bath of indeterminate temperature which is Tom Holt’s work, and emerged sometimes comforted and sometimes frozen, I read your review and decided it was time to give Mr H another chance.

    The book is on order, and heading my way as I type.

    I’ll come back and let you know what I thought of it when I’ve read it. 🙂

  2. Mitnik

    Thanks Jefft. I’ll be really interested to see what you think of it, and if you agree on the fact it’s an improvement on his earlier works.. (Sadly not carried into his later works though.. You don’t haveto be Evil really missed the mark, Barking is fantastic, but Blonde Bombshell is slow going and has very little of the trademark Holt Humour – A real mixed bag.)

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