Sunday, October 19, 2008
"The book's strengths...are precisely the ones you don't expect: its dry, deftly understated wit; its careful plot and character construction; its hearty, well-formed sentences; its clever, on-the-money dialogue." Bruce Weber, The New York Times Book Review.
"Is there anything that Michael Palin can't do? Now, with Hemingway's Chair, he's produced an engaging and accomplished first novel. It makes you wonder when we'll be hearing the premiere of Palin's First Symphony....His book is well paced, his prose carefully hewn, his characters fully developed and convincingly human. And his comic timing is impeccable." The Washington Post.
Hemingway's Chair was the New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1998. Ten years hence, I saw the book at a knocked-down price, and considering that I am a fan of New York Times' recommendations, the book moved through the sale, and on to my bedside table faster than Hemingway could write.
Funny, yes, it is, I agree with the above reviews. Hilarious at times, the book has a dry British humor, a play on words, and oddly lovable characters. All except one. The hero of the book, the main character, Martin Sproale. Engaging at first, there is something about the ordinary in him, and I don't mean to criticize that. He is meant to be Everyman. With his own strange quirk - his love and adoration for Hemingway. Martin is devoted to his post office, but is just as susceptible to the odd greediness as any of us. His life begins to unravel when young, unscrupulous Nick Marshall is appointed Manager denying Martin what was rightfully his. Nick is all for modernizing the post office, and that means an end to tradition as we know. Righto. The story was interesting till now, and would have continued to be so if it had stuck to its plot.
But no. Suddenly, there is a bizarre sub-element -Nick, surprise surprise, is two-timing the post office, and in some complicated way is out to implement a networking system that will revolutionize the world. In the middle we have Ruth, an American novelist who is writing a book on Hemingway's women, flashing the proverbial apple to poor Martin in the form of Hemingway's chair up for sale. It costs a 1000 quid, and Martin has not the money. So what does he do? Well, he falls in with Nick. The old post office goes. The new one comes up. Martin takes up the cause of getting back the post office, and loses his girlfriend to Nick, gains another one in Ruth, loses his mental balance completely, and somehow apparently obtains his revenge...or does he?
The language is superb, but the plot is a bit too thin. I could not understand why not one, but two women would fall in love with Martin, who is not I assure, you, likely to capture your imagination. I mean, he walks around talking of "Papa" (Hemingway), collects Papa's knick knacks, and lives more in Papa's world than this own and I am not sure that is fact enough to love him. In the end, I was a tad disappointed. For a novel that started so well, it unfortunately didn't quite have Hemingway's own characteristic punch in the end.