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The Hopeless Life Of Charlie Summers [Hardcover]

Paul Torday
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 Feb 2010
Hector Chetwode-Talbot, Eck to his friends, has left the army after a rather nasty moment in Colombia. From a privileged background, he is slightly at a loss as to what to do next, when he is approached by an old army pal, Bilbo Mountwilliam. Bilbo runs an investment fund company and business is booming. Bilbo persuades Eck to join the company as a 'greeter', for a person with Eck's list of contacts is an easy route to a rich seam of moneyed clients. All Eck has to do is supply the contacts with entertainment and large G&Ts and then the fund managers will do the rest. Soon Eck is able to buy himself a luxury sports car and decadent flat in the city. All that is missing in his life is a woman. It is on a golfing trip to France with his friend Henry Newark that Eck first meets Charlie Summers, a fly-by-night entrepreneur who is hiding out in France after a 'misunderstanding with Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue'. Charlie's latest scheme is to import Japanese dog food into the UK. Henry casually mentions that Charlie should 'look us up' if he is ever in Gloucestershire. Not only does Charlie Summers look Henry up, he arrives with his suitcase, intent on staying with the Newarks and relaunching his dog food business in their area. But with the financial crash looming, Eck begins to ask himself if they are so very different...

Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; First Edition; 1st printing. edition (18 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297855263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297855262
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 14 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 535,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Torday was born in 1946 and read English Literature at Pembroke College, Oxford. He spent the next 30 years working in engineering and in industry, after which he scaled back his business responsibilities to fulfil a long-harboured ambition - to write.

He burst on to the literary scene in 2006 with his first novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, an immediate bestseller that has been sold in 19 countries.

He is married with two sons by a previous marriage and has two stepsons and lives close to the River North Tyne.

Product Description


one of the most outstanding authors to have emerged in recent years (Caroline Jowett DAILY EXPRESS)

Torday is master of blending satire with gentle humanity (Clare Longrigg PSYCHOLOGIES)

Charlie then turns up at Henry's house - and Eck begins to see a disturbing reflection of himself (Kate Saunders THE TIMES)

Charlie is a wonderful creation, at once sad and heroic, whose search for redemption attains real pathos at the end of this affecting, skilfully crafted novel (David Evans FINANCIAL TIMES)

shades of both Greene and Ambler here, both in the crispness of the exposition and the marrying of humour with something close to tragedy (John Preston THE SPECTATOR)

A beautifully told tale - we loved it! (BELLA)

A brilliant, page-turning read that combines the pace of Torday's The Girl on the Landing with his trademark humour in Salmon Fishing (GRANTA)

a fine tale. Even the worst of us, according to this novel, can find redemption (Virginina Blackburn DAILY EXPRESS)

Brilliantly and sympathetically drawn.. this wonderfully written, clever book does not miss a single trick (Wendy Moore DAILY MAIL)

Four stars (SHE)

This is his fourth novel and it too deserves to do well... It is funny, touching and ultimately surprising (Allan Massie THE SCOTSMAN)

his quietly compassionate portrait of Charlie has powerful echoes off Dickens's Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities (Claire Allfree METRO)

another deft and likeable comedy from Torday (Max Davidson MAIL ON SUNDAY)

this is a hugely readable and largely fluent novel (Elizabeth Buchan SUNDAY TIMES)

The Salmon Fishing in the Yemen author is now achieving 'must-read' status. You're in for an Eck of a good time (NEWS OF THE WORLD)

Torday's novel gives a strong impression of the callous indifference that moving around big sums of other people's money tends to entail. (David Horspool TLS)

Book Description

A modern TALE OF TWO CITIES by the bestselling author of SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down! 14 July 2010
I loved this book so much that I immediately went out and bought another book by Paul Torday. With someone who writes as well as this, I don't think you can really go wrong.
I couldn't put the book down. The plot was ingenious, the themes topical, the characterization very credible and as an added bonus, it had me laughing out loud. That's not to say that it was a comedy. There are definitely some scary parts and one or two very scary characters. And the ending is terribly sad.
However, everything flowed, all details were relevant, and Mr Torday is a very competent and compelling storyteller.
I only wish that really good books like this would get more attention, but sadly, it's often the so-called bestsellers that end up being a disappointment. You won't get that here.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I'd like to vist Torday-land 6 Jan 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I do find Paul Torday's books very readable. It helps that he has characters wandering out of one book into another and plots or themes from one book prefigured in another. But also, the world he describes seems a pleasant, sunlit place, populated by decent types with names like Hector ("Eck") Chetwode-Talbot who bump up against each other in London clubs and never have to do a 9-to-5 job. Instead they live on inheritances or farm a bit. There might be some trauma in the background - in Eck's case, a nasty experience in Afghanistan - but it's kept at arm's length. As Eck says in "The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers", none of them are ever really on the edge.

Or so you might think. There comes a time, though, when the music stops, and most of the chairs have disappeared. In this book, Torday describes the recent financial crash. Eck is a roper-in for a London hedge fund, encouraging his wealthy friends to put their money in his company's "Styx II" fund. The Charlie of the title is a lower level conman, selling dodgy dog food and beetroot wine from the back of a rented van, stretching his credit and vanishing when things get too hot. What, the book asks, is the real difference between them? It's perhaps a fairly obvious point, and certainly not a subtle analysis of the crash, but Torday's characters are compelling (except the real villains, who are perhaps a bit cardboard). I did see how it would all end when I was three quarters of the way through, but it's fun to read and still quite compulsive - I had to sit up last night to finish it.

Properly I'd like to give 3.5 stars but as I can't, 4 rather than 3 for sheer verve and readability.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and easy to read tale of morals 8 Dec 2012
I had enjoyed two of Paul Tordays earlier books and thought I would give this a go.
The tale is told by Hector, who is a "greeter" for a hedge fund company, attracting new clients and comforting existing investors. He observes his experiences in a comfortable way which is very easy to read and gets around the problem of relating events where he is not present by referring to stories being told to him later in time, quite a clever way of getting around a problem with a first person narrative.
I was hooked into the plot from the first page of the prologue. The story has financial blind optimism at its heart which creates a wonderful feeling of inevitable gloom in you as you are reading, as you know better than Hector about the future prospects for the investments.
There are many novels which have used the financial boom and bust as a backdrop. This one approaches the economic crisis in a very matter of fact and easy of understand way which links in well with the plot of the story.
It's a great story with some lovely characters whose only criticism can be that they are slightly overplayed. That aside it is a good fun book to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great read from Paul Torday 14 Jan 2011
I have read all Paul Torday's books up to date and this one did not disappoint. As the plot has been outlined in other reviews, I will keep this brief and just say ''The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers'' is another great read. His earlier novels, like this one, are a mixture of humour and (often) sadness - his characters usually somewhat flawed but likeable. There is always an unusual twist to look forward to. I so enjoyed this latest novel and urge others to read it. It's impossible not to like ''Eck'' and Charlie Summers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but predictable 14 May 2012
By Amazon Customer TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Pros - It's well written, and the financial backdrop and jargon seem well observed. It's also interesting (if you've read any of the author's other novels)to see how the lives of characters from other tales intersect with the characters in this story.

Cons - The parallels between Charlie the low level conman and Eck the hedge fund financial salesman are too laboriously worked, to the point where it is in danger of becoming a finger wagging morality fable. Also given that we all know the outcome of the financial shenanigans described, the reader can accurately predict the fates of Eck, James and Bilbo right from the outset. We are constantly reminded of the physical resemblance between Charlie and Eck, so the "mistaken identity" twist is also quite predictable once you hit the last few chapters.

It's written in the author's usual pleasant (if bittersweet) style, it's not a demanding or exciting read, but the main characters are well drawn, and it's a reasonably interesting read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I really like Paul Torday's writing.
Published 10 days ago by Jo
5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST
Very good read with interesting characters and up-to-date background. Intend to read all his books now and hope that other people will do so.
Published 4 months ago by Mrs. Marcia Clark
3.0 out of 5 stars Given as gift to friend
The person I gave it to really enjoys this author's work and looks forward to more..
I did not read it personally myself
Published 5 months ago by Mrs. A. H. Mullender
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing read
A brave attempt to develop empathy for the foot soldiers of our recent financial disaster. Or just pointing that greed is built into us all.
Published 5 months ago by Brian R. Tytherleigh
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely story - partial follon on to Salmon Fishing
The style of Torday is great, very perceptive of why people do things and you feel you know the person by the end of the story
In the end Charlie Summers comes across as a... Read more
Published 5 months ago by A. J. Sudworth
4.0 out of 5 stars Hopeless LIves
A poignant tome - probably echoes in all readers the past stunts we may have pulled that embarrass us now. Read more
Published 12 months ago by a d moore
4.0 out of 5 stars a nice easy read
Great fun, a little predictable but felt true to life. I loved the Englishness about it, you felt for all the characters.
Published 13 months ago by joooools
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read for our current times
I'm on page 199 and can't wait to finish this fun engrossing book, so I'm off to finish it now
Published 16 months ago by stevieboy
5.0 out of 5 stars De Nos Jours!
This book was highly topical and stimulating. I found it funny but with a bittersweet ending. It is well worth reading and I recommend it for book club discussion.
Published 21 months ago by Maggy
5.0 out of 5 stars A morality test
Probably the best novel (known to me) that Paul Torday has written post "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen". Read more
Published 23 months ago by Mr. A. J. Downs
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