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A Stranger in the Earth: A Novel Hardcover – August 10, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st U.S. ed edition (August 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151004080
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151004089
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,523,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ah, the fish-out-of-water tale. In A Stranger in the Earth, debut novelist Marcel Theroux drops fresh-out-of-the-sticks Horace Littlefair into a rough-and-tumble London populated by all manner of dreamers, conspirators, and fakes. Once he's settled and gainfully employed, the eye-opening that Horace experiences constitutes the novel's comic arc. And his job at his uncle's newspaper, The South London Bugle, is a great narrative device, setting up a series of humorous encounters with monomaniacs (and just plain maniacs) of various stripes. There's Trevor Diamond, the animal-rights activist devoted to the preservation of the urban fox. There's Horace's Scrabble-obsessed landlord, Mr. Narayan, who wins his games using words like rewoo. In these and an abundance of other secondary characters, Theroux's craft shines. You can't sum up their relationships in single sentences without sounding like you're setting up a punch line: What do you get when you cross a politician with a lady of the evening? What does an animal-rights activist have to do with a gardening columnist? To Theroux's credit, the answer to both of these questions is: Quite a lot, actually.

What's lost in the shuffle of who-did-what-to-whom is Horace himself, who comes off more as a surrogate reader than a fully realized character. While those called up from central casting steal the show, he remains somewhat muted, more often a witness than a participant in the madness. His moments of self-reflection appropriately encounter this kind of sentiment:

And for all his conscientious interest in the world,
and the business of getting up and going to work each
day, he was still aware of a hollowness inside him
that he couldn't fill up with newsprint.
One of Theroux's great talents lies in the rubbish coming out of his characters' mouths. If you never thought it possible for anyone other than Austin Powers to utter "chap," "bloke," and "bird" within the space of a single paragraph, look no further than A Stranger in the Earth, old boy. At times sounding like a Pygmalion by way of Monty Python with a detour into Lewis Carroll's wonderland, these characters can't seem to shut up, and their voices are music to readers' ears. --Ryan Boudinot

From Publishers Weekly

A few weeks after his arrival in London, country-boy Horace Littlefair sheds his grandfather's tweeds for the synthetic accouterments of hip-hop style, but cannot shake the provincial integrity of his upbringing. An innocent youth from the village of Great Must, Horace blunders comically through Theroux's first novel: his failed efforts to join the chemical generation are matched only by his bungled attempts as a journalist at the South London Bugle, the newspaper owned by his striving, blow-hard great-uncle Derwent Boothby. After losing his first love interestAa lovely Pole named JanaAto the immigration authorities, and finding himself relegated to writing the Bugle's garden column, Horace accepts an assignment to profile one of London's centenariansAthe ancient Agnes KettleAand the plot heats up. Soon after Horace interviews her, Mrs. Kettle is visited by zealous Trevor Diamond, head of a one-man campaign to save the urban fox. Horace starts to write puff pieces about Trevor, and the two fall into an uneasy, malt-hazed collaboration. WhenAshades of Ian McEwan's recent Booker Prize novel, AmsterdamAMP Barnaby Colefax is caught with a prostitute, a conspiracy to cover it up drives Colefax and Diamond into each other's arms. Meanwhile, Horace plays Scrabble with his landlord, Mr. Narayan, agonizes over Narayan's wayward daughter Lakshmi and starts to fall for a smart, hard-boiled city girl. The quippy, English humor of this novel supplements its loose, picaresque style. As a satirist, Theroux is often very sharp; he is, however, sometimes a bit ham-handed, as when Horace's devastating hangover is followed, after a section break, by the old A.A. meeting standard, "My name is Richard and I'm an alcoholic." Still, Theroux's fun poking is genuinely appealing. He is deeply sympathetic to London's motley denizens, and is an ambitious architect of plot. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Marcel Theroux is the author of four novels, A Blow to the Heart, A Stranger in the Earth, The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes: A Paper Chase, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, and most recently, Far North, which is a 2009 National Book Award Finalist. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
One night, bored, I went to see Marcel Theroux read from his debut novel at a local bookstore. I enjoyed the old-fashioned wit of his excerpts so much I ended up buying a copy--something I am not prone to do. It took half a year, but when I finally got around to reading it, it was exactly what I expected: a gentle, witty tale of a country bumpkin's move to London to work for his great-uncle's newspaper. There are a boatload of supporting characters who are all utterly believable, with their own quirks and entertaining agendas. One small criticism is the silliness of character names, which slightly detracts from the overall assuredness of the writing. There is a lot going on, but it all resolves more or less satisfactorily, as is the norm in fish-out-of-water stories of this ilk. The one area that could have used a bit more attention was the history of the hero's grandfather. A promising debut.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I like this book and I LOVE Horace. I certainly hope we'll meet Horace in future novels.
Marcel is a very different writer from uncle Alex Theroux whose prose sends you lunging for the dictionary every fifth word, and father Paul who populates his novels with predatory men. Marcel's characters make me wish I knew them. OK there is a slightly predatory MP but you know throughout the story that he'll pay for his deeds like the real British pols.
My only criticism would be that he seems to be trying to outdo Dickens with the quirky character names. They are amusing but a little overdone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Unlike the reader from Philly I found Marcel Theroux to be a gifted young writer with a flair for comic setups, perfect descriptions and an ear for dialogue. This book, be warned, has quite a lot going on in it and to Theroux's credit (not his uncle) he manages to wrap things up--or attempt to wrap things up--while keeping the other balls in the air. Therein was my problem with the book: It was too short, abbreviated. A better book could be had if a few of the plot threads were dismissed. Of course, half the fun was watching the author spin the threads out. And like one of the other reviewers said, you never know what's going to come next. It's a close stab at "Lucky Jim" in my opinion, but ultimately not The Greatest Book of All Time because of the inability of the author to successfully finish the book. Would I buy another of his books? Maybe. Would I give a new book of his consideration? Definitely.
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By A Customer on August 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not so bad for a first book, at least it is readable even when a little confusing. The author isn't really interested in his characters, picks them up and drops them without much explanation. The books doesn't come to a conclusion, it just ends. It is hard to understand the characters, they are stick figures and need more flesh. Of course, when I read the senior Theroux's books, I never really understand why he does anything, either. They seem to want to share their views of the world, but nothing of themselves. This is true of all of Paul Theroux's book, including my favorite, his trip through China in the Iron Rooster. Seems to be true of the son, also. If the main character reflects the author, I get the feeling he feels out of step with the world, but doesn't much give a damn about it, preferring to wait until the rest of the world gets in line with him.
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