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HEMINGWAY'S CHAIR by Michael Palin


by Michael Palin

Pub Date: May 25th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18593-6
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

The Monty Python veteran’s debut novel is a slight but engaging oddity: an affectionate portrait of a shy and disappointed man who’s obsessed with Ernest Hemingway. Pale, rash-prone Martin Sproale has worked at the Theston post office for the past 16 years. He maintains a chaste flirtation with his colleague Elaine, and is unfailingly polite to the eccentrics and busy-bodies who swarm in on a daily basis. The only question is: When will his boss retire, leaving Martin to ascend to the coveted position of Postmaster? While he waits, Martin comforts himself by nursing his quasi-secret obsession: He devours biographies of his hero, savors trivia, packs his room with Hemingway memorabilia. But Martin’s staid routine gets shaken. His professional ambitions are dashed when a young man from central headquarters is sent to manage his post office. And another Hemingway enthusiast arrives in his somnolent seaside town: Ruth Kohler, on sabbatical from a New Jersey university, is holed up at a local farmhouse, writing a book about Hemingway’s women. The work situation rapidly degenerates: The new boss is keen on modernization, and indifferent to the role that the post office has traditionally played in the community. Longtime clerks are fired, computers are installed, finally the office itself is moved out of its grand headquarters and into the back room of a candy shop. Martin’s only consolation is the attractive scholar: The two of them drink grappa, argue over the relative merits of the master’s works, and get down to some serious flirtation. Egged on by Ruth, Martin attempts to organize resistance to the post office changes, and is unceremoniously fired. Boozy rampages, manic schemes, and some self-discovery ensue as the timid postal clerk gets in touch with his inner Ernest. The pairing of gentle satire and dead-on description of raw human pain is a bit disconcerting, but in all, Palin offers a lively, if slight, ride to nowhere in particular. (Author tour)