Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Hemingway's Chair – Michael Palin

Michael Palin is more famous for his Monty Python exploits and latterly his adventurous travel documentaries that have drawn many in as he explored relatively ignored tourist destinations. But he does have another string to an incredibly large bow, he has a genuine knack for story telling.

Hemingway's Chair was written and published in the early to mid 1990s when Britain (and in fact much of the western world) began to make tough decisions to sell off to private interests government enterprise. Although in the end much of the change was inevitable, the decisions did leave scars as many perceived that what used to be the pillars of British society were being knocked down.

No 'pillar' destruction potentially tugged more at the heart strings of communities than the sale of the local post office, and around this is where, in the fictional East Anglian town of Theston, Palin takes up his story. An assistant Post Office Manager in Martin Sproule finds his dreams of making the full step up to Manager of Theston's post office are taken away by the privateers. Martin however does not go down without a fight, his strength drawn from his encyclopaedic knowledge of the works of and man himself in Ernest Hemingway.

The book is an engaging as well as light hearted story that is in no way predictable. The characters are mad to begin with, and just keep getting madder. Martin idolises his 'Papa' (Hemingway) and as his life unravels further he is drawn into living a life parallel to the tragic authors. The ending comes suddenly, and with no wrapping up of perceived loose ends that takes strength as a reader to accept as reasonable.

Palin is a devotee himself of Hemingway's work. One of his travel series took him to the corners of the earth that the author inhabited during his life. The knowledge that he has of the man through research and having read his work no doubt comes through the story subtly, however lives well below the perception of someone like myself who has no familiarity with Hemingway.

Despite my own limitations it is an entertaining read, and if you are knowledgeable on Hemingway it may be even more so. Tennis Balls.

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