I went to a Lifeline Book Fair a month or so ago and bought a whole pile of books. You have to be in the right mood really to make the most of the this sort of experience. There are thousands of second hand books, roughly categorised to sort through. But for the strong hearted and strong muscled there are plenty of bargains to be had. Actually I have been to a number of these fundraising Lifeline Book Fairs over the years, and this one was perhaps the most rewarding and fun. However "Hemingway's Chair" the focus of this review, and oddly the first book of my bounty that I decided to crack open and read, was a disappointment.
A long time fan of Monty Python and the wonderful Michael Palin travel series, I was very curious to read some of his fiction. "Hemingway's Chair " was written in the mid 1990s. It is not a terrible book by any means. It just fails to grip or captivate. The narrative of Hemingway's Chair deals with a postal worker in a small English village. Martin leads a largely ordinary life but has a secret obsession with all things Hemingway. He has an extensive collection of Hemingway memorabilia in his room and from time to time likes to fantasize about being his hero. Things turn really pear shaped for Martin when the local Post Office where he works is privatized and he feels squeezed out. Under pressure and feeling very isolated the line between his own identity and his hero's blurs more and more. He drinks heavily and adopts more of what he believes to be the attitudes and approaches of Ernest Hemingway. One only needs to know the very basics of the life and times of Ernest Hemingway to predict that this can't end well for a disgruntled postal worker.
There is a self conscious and awkwardness to Palin's writing here at times. The main characters are vaguely drawn and uninteresting. A real positive is the supporting cast in the village. The carry on of some of the villagers is often hilarious and one glimpses the wry comic genius that Michael Palin is well known for.
Perhaps "Hemingway's Chair" didn't work for me because the funny supporting character observations are so well done and the handling of the dramatic narrative just pales in comparison. After all, this is ostensibly a dramatic and darkly themed novel; the two just don't seem to sit together.
As I said "Hemingway's Chair" is not awful, and I will continue to devour Mr Palin's intrepid and often hilarious travel documentaries with absolute pleasure.