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Motherless Brooklyn Paperback – Jul 1 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (July 1 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571226329
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571226320
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 222 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #515,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.2 out of 5 stars

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By A Customer on May 11 2004
Format: Paperback
Lionel Essrog is the center of attention in this riveting novel by Jonahtan Lethem--he (Lionel, not the author) has Tourette's Syndrome, that unfortunate and uncontrollable desire to shout, bark, and curse. As if that weren't enough premise, add to this the fact that poor Lionel ends up working for a small-time mobster who runs a limo service. I was expecting something along the lines of a Pahalinuk novel with extreme situations and characters (and I did get that), but I also got something more: great storytelling and a great plot. There are several novels out nowadays that deal with "handicaps" of some sort. This must the going thing. Haddon's THE CURIOUS INCIDIENT deals with autism, and McCrae's BARK OF THE DOGWOOD deals with a child who has Dissociative Identity Disorder, among a host of other ailments, as well as being an abused child. So why not a novel about Tourette's syndrome? One shudders to think what these materials would be like in less capable author's hands, but in all three novels, the ideas work, especially in MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN. I can't recommend this book enough. It's just one of the most unusual things I've read in years.
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Format: Paperback
This book is hard to categorize. Is it a detective novel? A satire of the detective novel? A literary journey through the complexities of language? Who knows, and the book is so thoroughly entertaining that it really doesn't matter what the authors real motives are.
The narrator, Lionel Essrog (a name just dying for a Tourettic tic) has Tourette's Syndrome, which makes him a wonderful and unique storyteller. And the reader can't help but laugh out loud at his unexpected yellings and shoulder taps. I kept expecting Lionel to become annoying or to find a cure for his tics, but Lethem gratefully keeps him true to character the entire book. The word associations and spoonerisms that Lionel erupts with will be interesting to anyone who likes wordplay.
The detective part of this novel comes in when Minna, a low status criminal, is knifed. It's up to his gang, the Minna Men, of which Lionel is one, to figure out whodunnit. What occurs is a tongue-in-cheek crime story that actually manages to be a pretty good mystery in the end.
This is overall a pretty strange book in that it was never what I expected it to be. Hilarious, mysterious, tragic, and touching. How did Lethem manage to do all this in just over 300 pages? I'll be reading another Lethem very soon....
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By Jason Baer on Sept. 11 2003
Format: Paperback
We're all familiar with the conventions of the hard-boiled detective genre: men of few words, fisticuffs in back alleys, rougue cops, mysterious women with long legs and dark secrets, and so forth. In this brilliant novel, Lethem has turned all of these conventions on their ear. Instead of a man of few words, our protagonist (Lionel Essrog) is a man of too many words... he has Tourette's Syndrome.
The ordinary detective slowly uncovers clues through a mixture of intimidation and verbal trickery. Lionel, on the other hand, is ridiculed or roughed up by nearly everyone he meets. And still he brilliantly tracks down leads and uses his apparent weaknesses to his advantage. All other conventions are also reversed. Dark secrets turn out to be less dark than we imagined. Instead of being coy and mysterious, the women practice Zen and say what they mean.
Lethem has done an excellent job of replicating the tension, pace, and intrique of the very best detective novels, but he has done so in a way that no one else has before. And the brilliant writing and masterful descriptions of New York City make it easy to see why this novel has garnered so much praise from people and publications that ordinarily don't care much for genre writing.
Fans of the genre, read this book to get a taste of something wonderfully different. Fans of literature, read this book to experience the very best of the detective genre. Also, if you liked this book, try Martin Amis's NightTrain.
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Format: Paperback
I read an interview with Lethem in which he said that while writing the book, he learned to see Tourette's Syndrome as a kind of continuum, and that all human beings are on it somewhere and show Tourettic impulses. He said that if the book succeeds, readers will diagnose themselves to see where they fit on that continuum. As someone who found it necessary to research interviews on Lethem to better understand the book, I learned that I'm more like Lionel Essrog than I'd like.
That's only one reason the book is a success, though. Many other reviewers have pointed out the moments of hilarity and poignancy, the appeal of Lionel as a narrator, etc., so I'd like to add a few other things:
One aspect ties to what's mentioned above -- the universality of Tourette's. Lionel ties his affliction to conspiracies, guilt, insomnia, etc., showing how so many emotions and trains of thought have to do with trying to touch or change the world and how futile those efforts can seem. Lionel's interrogation of his Tourette's mind helps it rise above literary gimmickry.
I also liked how Lethem showed the difficulty of controlling language and communicating effectively with other people. Lionel tics around nearly everybody, with the exception (most of the time, anyway) of Kimmery, who is a soothing presence and accepts his Tourette's more than most people. Even around Frank Minna, whom Lionel adores, he tics. Maybe that's because Lionel likes the way Minna talks -- his pat phrases ("wheels within wheels," "tell your story walking," "tugging the boat," etc.) form Lionel's chief memories of Minna, and he repeats them frequently. I think he could be envious. Besides Kimmery, Lionel has few other situations in which he can be tic-free.
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