Tiptoe by Kit O’Conor


Tiptoe is a rich and complex novella. It is now being offered for the first time in the U.S. since its publication two years ago, where it garnered critical acclaim and many five-star reviews on Amazon UK’s site. Tiptoe is his first published piece of long fiction, and it’s a winner.

The book chiefly tracks two compelling characters, Milo and Roan through everyday London as they try to make their way: Milo as a dissatisfied call center worker soliciting business for a local eye doctor; and Roan, a struggling performance artist who stands for ten hours a day on London street corners dressed in a suit of armor.

We follow both young men as they struggle along, Milo through heavy ingestion of a white, milky drug called Tiptoe, and Roan through a tortured, daily examination of his art and how it might be changing him.

The author paints rich word portraits of his characters, once saying of Roan that “Humour had become a peculiar thing to him. In recent months he had watched the world ever more intently, searching for it.” Indeed, Roan finds nothing funny about his existence, the world’s situation, or even his friends—including Pepper, a quirky street magician who sells flaming wallets, among other things.

Milo, however, is arguably the most central character and is chronically bereft of direction. He goes each night to a club where he drinks Tiptoe and gyrates to the music and lasers, mostly dancing with himself or, occasionally, with the girls he picks up. These encounters should be a bright spot for Milo, but his depression robs him of any pleasure from the heated unions.

And, of course, there’s one other little detail that stands between him and happiness: Milo’s married to Ivy, an elementary grade schoolteacher with an inordinately giant heart for her students. To complicate matters, he disappears regularly for days on end, sleeping in seedy walkup lodgings. This singular habit eventually leads to friction with Ivy, who has friction of her own from her younger sister, Ruth, who “wore a thin, braided headband and a sleeveless top to show off the tattoo she regretted.”

While there is no plot, per se, to the book, it is enough to be carried along on O’Connor’s wonderful writing style, which is direct and, again, refreshingly full of satisfying description. Of one man in a story being told to a child about knights chasing dragons, he says, “One day, when (the knight’s) face was thick with frowns and whiskers, he reached the ends of the earth.”

And another laudable turn of phrase: “As he handed over the whisky, he inspected Milo, from his missing shirt buttons to his wired pupils.” And yet one more: “Months passed, and he began to wonder what would be the most appropriate way, if he were to go mad.”

Needless to say, I liked Tiptoe very much and look forward to O’Connor’s next literary endeavor. I hope it won’t be long.

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