by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Interests: money, religion, morality, crime, single parent, siblings, ghostsMacmillan: 2004
250 pages, 20 chapters
Next: movie version of Millions
Also by this author: Framed, Cosmic, The Unforgotten Coat, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again
Damian and his older brother Anthony are still getting over the death of their mother, as well as moving to a new neighbourhood and starting a new school. Damian has become an expert on patron saints and starts mimicking their exploits to the great concern of his Dad and teachers. He’s even built a cardboard box ‘hermitage’ out by the tracks, and he is praying out there one day when a bag of money literally falls from the sky, right on top of him. He interprets this, reasonably enough, as a gift from God. (After all, Anthony has observed that whenever they say their mom is dead people give them things.) The bag is full of British pound notes, and as it is on the very eve of the switch to the Euro, in only two weeks they will be absolutely worthless. This deadline sends the two brothers into a spending frenzy. And when the thieves who threw the bag from the train come looking for it, things get really complicated.
This is a breezy tale and doesn’t dwell too long on details, or logic at times. There are a few plot holes and unbelievable moments but the real strength of the story lies in the winning personality of the narrator Damian and the revelation that money changes everything. It makes people act crazy and doesn’t solve problems at all – it causes all kinds of trouble. The two boys spread their ten pound notes through the school and before they know it kids are lining up to sell them worthless junk at inflated prices. It isn’t long before Damian has to pay a classmate one hundred pounds to do his art project for him. And when grownups start to get wind of the money, they act just as badly as the kids.
Anthony has a true entrepreneur’s heart, but Damian just wants to do good, saintly deeds, which causes an amusing rift between the two. Anthony discovers that most of the stuff out there that his heart desires is actually worthless, and Damian finds giving money to poor people is unexpectedly difficult to do. As the Euro switchover date looms even their normally-rational Dad is swept up in the financial frenzy. Damian is an ethical rock in the maelstrom, but even he is mystified over what to do with the cash, only coming up with the correct course of action right at the end of the book.
There’s an element of magical realism as Damian receives ‘visitations’ and advice from various saints, but his mother is always in the back of his mind, and at the very end she finally makes an appearance, helping both boys come to terms with her death.
I was not so impressed by the lapses in story logic, the book feels rather too quickly written and incompletely worked through, but I adored the moral quandaries the boys face at every turn and the observations about the effects of money on everyone. An excellent book for provoking thought and discussion. How can we really do good in this world? And what would you do with a big bag of money?