RogerBW's Blog

The Portable Door, Tom Holt 26 January 2015

2003 comic fantasy. Paul Carpenter applies for a job as a "junior clerk" at J. W. Wells, not knowing just what it is that they do; but it seems to be something really quite strange. He'd chuck it in if he hadn't fallen for his fellow junior clerk…

I've never really understood why Tom Holt's novels are classed as "comedy", unless it's of the "have to laugh because otherwise you'll start crying" variety.

Paul is a fairly typical Holt hero: aimless, fairly useless, utterly unable to cope with the idea of Girls never mind the reality. In spite of himself, he finds himself talking with Sophie, beginning with mutual contempt and gradually progressing to something warmer.

Even so, the book has a fairly slow start, since the reader knows that there's going to be fantasy and mystery involved, while Paul is just ploughing through a more-than-usually tedious office job. If anything I found him a little too pathetic to be really interesting; there were times when I really didn't care what happened to him, as long as something happened.

The titular portable door, which allows the user to step through to any place of his choice, is curiously underdefined; some of the warnings associated with it turn out to be complete red herrings, and it sometimes feels like an all-purpose plot-wrangling device. The love potion ("fall in love forever with the first person of the right sex you see on waking") is another matter, and is treated with the utter horror that it deserves.

There are plenty of inexplicable events that lead the reader to speculate about just what might be going on and how they could fit together, particularly in a sequence where the company's vault is catalogued; the eventual revelation was unsatisfying to me, a bit like a crime novel where all the weirdness is explained away with "a lunatic did it". With a slow start as well, it's really only the middle section that shines, which is a shame, since the underlying ideas are excellent.

Recommended nonetheless, especially if you find Holt's usual written view of the world (which isn't that of the man himself; he's much more cynical in person) a refreshing change from a steady stream of happy endings that wrap everything up neatly.

Followed by In Your Dreams.

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  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 11:47am on 26 January 2015

    I've got a long shelf of Tom Holt's stuff which is odd because I'm the sort of happy-go-lucky optimistic enjoyer of happily-ever-after endings that should (and in fact does) find the misery and gloom tedious.

    I think it's because he's such a lovely writer despite it all. THE PORTABLE DOOR and the subsequent sequence of stories built around J.W.Wells & Son (NOT H.W. Roger!) marks an uptick in his output after some fairly routine stories (GRAILBLAZERS or HERE COMES THE SUN for example). I treasure the memory of Paul's recruitment interview ("What is your opinion of the works of Chekov?") and the trip to do the banking.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 12:02pm on 26 January 2015

    There were all the Janes, for a while, which got a bit samey. I seem to have got out of the habit of reading his books, so now I'm catching up a bit.

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